WASHINGTON — Winter is coming ... later. And it’s leaving ever earlier.
Across the United States, the year’s first freeze has been arriving further and further into the calendar, according to more than a century of measurements from weather stations nationwide.
Scientists say it is yet another sign of the changing climate, and that it has good and bad consequences for the nation. There could be more fruits and vegetables — and also more allergies and pests.
“I’m happy about it,” said Karen Duncan of Streator, Ill. Her flowers are in bloom because she’s had no frost this year yet, just as she had none last year at this time either. On the other hand, she said just last week it was too hot and buggy to go out — in late October, near Chicago.
The trend of ever later first freezes appears to have started around 1980, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data from 700 weather stations across the U.S. going back to 1895 compiled by Ken Kunkel, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
To look for nationwide trends, Kunkel compared the first freeze from each of the 700 stations to the station’s average for the 20th Century. Some parts of the country experience earlier or later freezes every year, but on average freezes are coming later.
The average first freeze over the last 10 years, from 2007 to 2016, is a week later than the average from 1971 to 1980, which is before Kunkel said the trend became noticeable.
This year, about 40 percent of the Lower 48 states have had a freeze as of Oct. 23, compared to 65 percent in a normal year, according to Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private service Weather Underground.
Duncan’s flowers should be dead by now. According to data from the weather station near her in Ottawa, Ill., the average first freeze for the 20th century was Oct. 15. The normal from 1981 to 2010 based on NOAA computer simulations was Oct. 19. Since 2010, the average first freeze is on Oct. 26. Last year, the first freeze in Ottawa came on Nov. 12.
Last year was “way off the charts” nationwide, Kunkel said. The average first freeze was two weeks later than the 20th century average, and the last frost of spring was nine days earlier than normal.
Overall the United States freeze season of 2016 was more than a month shorter than the freeze season of 1916. It was most extreme in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon’s freeze season was 61 days — two months — shorter than normal.
Global warming has helped push the first frosts later, Kunkel and other scientists said. Also at play, though, are natural short-term changes in air circulation patterns — but they too may be influenced by man-made climate change, they said.
This shrinking freeze season is what climate scientists have long predicted, said University of Oklahoma meteorology professor Jason Furtado.
A shorter freeze season means a longer growing season and less money spent on heat. But it also hurts some plants that require a certain amount of chill, such as Georgia peaches, said Theresa Crimmins, a University of Arizona ecologist. Crimmins is assistant director of the National Phenology Network. Phenology is the study of the seasons and how plants and animals adapt to timing changes.
Pests that attack trees and spread disease aren’t being killed off as early as they normally would be, Crimmins said.
In New England, many trees aren’t changing colors as vibrantly as they normally do or used to because some take cues for when to turn from temperature, said Boston University biology professor Richard Primack.
Clusters of late-emerging monarch butterflies are being found far further north than normal for this time of year, and are unlikely to survive their migration to Mexico.
Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said natural variability, especially an El Nino, made last year exceptional for an early freeze, but “it represents the kind of conditions that will be more routine in a decade or two” because of man-made climate change.
“The long-term consequences are really negative,” said Primack, because shorter winters and hotter temperatures are also expected to lead to rising seas that cause worse flooding during heavy storms.
In suburban Boston, Primack and his wife are still eating lettuce, tomatoes and green beans from their garden. And they are getting fresh figs off their backyard tree almost daily.
“These fig trees should be asleep,” Primack said.
The first round of charges in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election were approved Friday — but it’s still not known what they are or who they target.
A federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., approved the charges, CNN reported Friday, citing sources briefed in the matter.
The network said plans were being made to take anyone charged into custody on Monday.
But with the charges still sealed under orders from a federal judge, it’s impossible to know who might be involved.
CNN said a spokesman for Mueller’s office declined to comment.
The special counsel has been digging into allegations of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential campaign since May.
Mueller’s been focusing on potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
President Donald Trump is also part of the probe for possible obstruction of justice for his alleged efforts to impede the investigation.
CNN reported that investigators are also scrutinizing Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia.
In addition to Mueller’s probe, three committees on Capitol Hill are conducting their own investigations.
NEW YORK (AP) — A conservative website with strong ties to the Republican establishment triggered the investigation into Donald Trump's past that ultimately produced the dossier that alleged a compromised relationship between the president and the Kremlin.
The Washington Free Beacon on Friday confirmed it originally retained the political research firm Fusion GPS to scour then-candidate Trump's background for negative information, a common practice known as "opposition research" in politics. Leaders from the Free Beacon, which is funded largely by Republican billionaire Paul Singer, insisted none of the early material it collected appeared in the dossier released later in the year detailing explosive allegations, many uncorroborated, about Trump compiled by a former British spy.
"During the 2016 election cycle we retained Fusion GPS to provide research on multiple candidates in the Republican presidential primary, just as we retained other firms to assist in our research into Hillary Clinton," wrote the site's editor-in-chief, Matthew Continetti, and chairman Michael Goldfarb. They continued: "The Free Beacon had no knowledge of or connection to the Steele dossier, did not pay for the dossier, and never had contact with, knowledge of, or provided payment for any work performed by Christopher Steele."
Earlier in the week, reports revealed that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee continued funding Fusion's work after the original GOP source lost interest.
Trump this week called it a "disgrace" that Democrats had helped pay for research that produced the document. But the original source of the research remained a secret.
The president himself hinted that he knew the Republican source earlier in the week, but he refused to share it. The White House had no immediate comment Friday night about the Free Beacon's involvement.
The Washington Free Beacon was initially founded as a project of the conservative nonprofit group Center for American Freedom, as an alternative to liberal news sites run by progressive nonprofits. The Center for American Freedom was organized as a 501(c)4 and did not reveal its donors, but Singer was the sole funder of the site as recently as 2014, according to a Republican political veteran familiar with the site. The veteran spoke on condition of anonymity to detail the newspaper's financial background.
The Free Beacon first retained Fusion to investigate Trump in the fall of 2015 and ended its relationship after Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination in late spring of 2016, according to a person close to Goldfarb, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private discussions.
The website and its leaders have strong ties throughout the Republican establishment. Goldfarb was deputy communications director on John McCain's presidential campaign. Singer was backing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's presidential bid at the time of the Free Beacon's involvement. And one of Singer's closest associates, Republican operative Dan Senor, served as Speaker Ryan's chief adviser during the 2012 president campaign.
A representative to Singer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rubio denied any knowledge of the Fusion research or the dossier this week.
"As far as whether it was my campaign, it wasn't and I'll tell you why," he told CNN. "I was running for president. I was trying to win. If I had anything against Donald Trump that was relevant and credible and politically damaging, I would've used it. I didn't have it."
The document, compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, emerged this year as a political flashpoint in the broader debate over Trump's ties to Russia.
A person close to Singer said the billionaire was not aware of Steele's involvement or the dossier until earlier this year when it was published. The person was not authorized to share internal discussions.
Law enforcement officials have worked to corroborate the dossier's claims. James Comey, FBI director at the time, advised Trump about the existence of the allegations, and Steele has been questioned as part of an ongoing probe into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump camp.
The U.S. intelligence community has determined that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election. Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the Russian interference and whether it was tied to Trump's campaign.
The House Intelligence Committee will help verify whether the Free Beacon had any involvement with Steele or his dossier, according to Jack Langer, a spokesman for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes.
"The Beacon has agreed to cooperate with the House Intelligence Committee to help the Committee verify this assertion," Langer said.
Miller reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Chad Day, Mary Clare Jalonick, Stephen Braun and Tom LoBianco in Washington contributed to this report.