By Alex DeMetrick

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The calendar may say spring starts Thursday, but science says it’s starting earlier than it used to. That might be hard to believe after the winter we’ve been through.

But Alex DeMetrick reports, NASA says it has the facts to back it up.

The return of spring naturally brings to mind certain expectations.

“When warm weather comes around, when the ground thaws, when the frost goes away and things begin to grow,” said Dr. Michelle Thaller, Goddard Space Flight Center.

And what might be a surprise:

“At NASA, we’ve actually been finding out this occurs about five days earlier on average than it did 50 years ago,” Thaller said.

It turns out, the frost line has been retreating north. And while a five-day head start may not sound like much, it is.

“In fact, there are a lot of environmental impacts. It can affect the way plants start to bloom, when insects get there, when birds migrate,” said Thaller.

Ground instruments provide daily temperatures, but long range changes take distance.

The kind of distance launching into space provides. For the better part of half a century, NASA has sent generations of spacecraft into orbit whose job is to study the Earth.

And decade after decade, the information has been adding up.

“It’s given us the best view of our planet’s changing due to natural and human effects,” said Dr. James Garvin, Goddard Space Flight Center.

And while this past winter clobbered Maryland and much of the eastern U.S., it was the exception to a planet posting warmer than usual temperatures.

“In the United States, you will see about a five-day shift. But when you get to Asia, you see like a 10-day shift. So twice the amount of change we see in the United States. So, all over the world, spring is coming sooner,” Thaller said.

For better and for worse.

While warmer temperatures earlier might be welcome in Maryland, they won’t help out west, where a major drought has taken hold. What little snow and rain has fallen there will simply dry up faster.

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