Reconstructing patterns of temperature, phenology, and frost damage over 124 years: Spring damage risk is increasing

Carol K. Augspurger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Climate change, with both warmer spring temperatures and greater temperature fluctuations, has altered phenologies, possibly leading to greater risk of spring frost damage to temperate deciduous woody plants. Phenological observations of 20 woody species from 1993 to 2012 in Trelease Woods, Champaign County, Illinois, USA, were used to identify years with frost damage to vegetative and reproductive phases. Local temperature records were used in combination with the phenological observations to determine what combinations of the two were associated with damage. Finally, a long-term temperature record (1889-1992) was evaluated to determine if the frequency of frost damage has risen in recent decades. Frost <-1.7°C occurred after bud-break in 14 of the 20 years of observation. Frost damage occurred in five years in the interior and in three additional years at only the forest edge. The degree of damage varied with species, life stage, tissue (vegetative or reproductive), and phenological phase. Common features associated with the occurrence of damage to interior plants were (1) a period of unusual warm temperatures in March, followed by (2) a frost event in April with a minimum temperature <-6.1°C with (3) a period of 16-33 days between the extremes. In the long-term record, 10 of 124 years met these conditions, but the yearly probability of frost damage increased significantly, from 0.03 during 1889-1979 to 0.21 during 1980-2012. When the criteria were 'softened' to <-1.7°C in April and an interval of 16-37 days, 31 of 124 years met the conditions, and the yearly damage probability increased significantly to 0.19 for 1889-1979 and 0.42 for 1980-2012. In this forest, the combination of warming trends and temperature variability (extremes) associated with climate change is having ecologically important effects, making previously rare frost damage events more common.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-50
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013


  • Climate change
  • Extreme event
  • Flowers
  • Frost damage
  • Global warming
  • Leaves
  • Long-term study
  • Phenology
  • Temperature pattern
  • Trees
  • Warm spring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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