Roses are blooming. Tulip bulbs are sprouting above ground. Gas and heating oil sales are off. People aren't buying overcoats and galoshes.
Has November gone berserk?
No, say weathermen, horticulturists, oil deliverymen and overcoat salesmen. The warm weather may seem wacky, but in Washington, wacky is normal.
Sandwiched between mountains and sea and straddling a meteorological no-man's-land between the colder North and more temperate South, Washington is susceptible to jolting extremes of weather, especially in the spring and autumn, that defy the word "average."
Since record-keeping began in 1812, temperatures in November have ranged from a high of 86 degrees to a low of 11 degrees - a 75-degree range that is bound to leave both animal and plant life bewildered.
There is also no guarantee when the first hard freeze of autumn will come. The earliest in the 106-year-old records of the National Weather Service here was on Oct. 21 in 1952. The latest was on Dec. 3 in 1975.
So far this November, the temperature has ranged from 39 to 76 degrees. The first 15 days of the month averaged 6.5 degrees above normal, nowhere near any records. But the balmy days of early November, combined with the brilliant sunshine and almost rainless month of October have given Washington one of its finest autumns in memory.
The changeable pattern asserted itself last Wednesday with chilly skies and the first substantial rain in weeks, then sunny skies and temperatures reaching 67 degrees on Saturday. But watch out for Monday, said the weather forecasters, predicting cold winds from the north and temperatures peaking in the 50s.
What has been "good" weather for the human population has meant something quite different for local plant and animal life. The recent extreme dryness has forced birds and rodents to scratch deeper in the ground for insects and other food. The warm air has caused growth and some budding by plants, exposing them to possible winter injury later.
The extended warm period has also deprived the cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin of a "chilling requirement" necessary to assure that they will bloom on schedule next spring, says Jay Gogue, regional chief scientist for the National Park Service.
"The longer you go into the fall without cold weather," he said yesterday, "the greater chance there is that the cherries will bloom a little bit late. The cherry trees normally bloom during the last week of March and the first week of April, he said.
Gogue said the lack of a "chilling requirement" in the autumn does not affect the brilliance or number of cherry blossoms.
As for tulip and other bulbs currently sprouting in local gardens, Gogue said, that is the common phenomemon during warm spells in late autumn, especially when the bulbs are shallow in the ground.
"If you put them in at the proper depth, like 10 to 20 inches," he said, "they probably won't be affected very much by the warm air above . . . But if you did it the easy way and just put them in four or five inches, they'll be drier and more subject to winter damage. If they grow out above the ground, they've pretty sure to be killed."
Stores selling winter wear reported sales down because of the warm weather.
"No question about it," said Frank Rich, owner of Rich's Shoe Stores. "I think weather's a big factor."
"People for the most part do not anticipate their needs," he said. "It's only after it starts snowing they come in for boots or whatever they need."
William D. McDonald, vice president for marketing at Woodward/Lothrop department stores, said sales of winter coats, scarves, gloves and other accessories are off. "We do feel our business is being hurt to some extent due to the (warm) temperatures."
Heating fuel suppliers also reported sales down. "We're distributing less than normal," said James Curtis of Metro Fuels Co.
Washington Gas Light Co. spokesman Paul Young said gas sales dropped to 3.7 billion cubic feet in the first 15 days of November this year compared to 4.1 billion cubic feet during the same period last year.