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Even at the top of Mt. Washington, the warming of the world can be detected

An intern at the Mount Washington Observatory fought against wind gusts of 110 miles per hour in March 2020. Even Mt. Washington is now feeling the effects of climate change.Mount Washington Observatory (custom credit)/Mount Washington Observatory

It’s notorious for its bitter cold, shrieking winds, icicles, and sideways snow. But now the data shows that even New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast, is feeling the impact of global warming, researchers say.

“Summit annual temperatures are now increasing at a statistically significant rate,” researchers wrote in a study published last year in the journal Northeastern Naturalist.

The researchers said the trend became clear after reviewing the 15 most recent years of data from the Mount Washington Observatory.

“It’s more than just due to chance. It’s really a warming trend. That’s what we found,” said Georgia L. D. Murray, a staff scientist with the Appalachian Mountain Club who was the lead author of the study.

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The study said it found “changing climate conditions, consistent in direction of change, including warming temperatures, changing winters, and extended growing seasons.”

“The most recent 15 years have been the warmest period on record globally. This accelerated rate of warming regionally and in our study is consistent with the continued rise of greenhouse-gas emissions and positive-feedback mechanisms that are accelerating global warming,” the study said.

The study looked at both the 6,288-foot peak, where the observatory has been taking measurements since the 1930s, and nearby Pinkham Notch, which is at 2,025 feet.

Researchers found that the average annual temperature is warming 0.18 degrees per decade at the summit and 0.25 degrees at the lower-elevation Pinkham Notch.

Other findings in the paper included: The summit is experiencing 1.8 fewer frost days (when the minimum daily temperature is below 32) per decade, and 1.8 fewer ice days (when the maximum daily temperature is below 32) per decade. The length of the growing season on the summit is also increasing at 1.8 days per decade, the observatory said in a statement.

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Pinkham Notch saw a major decrease in total snowfall. Snow declined by several inches a year, ending up with a loss of 68 inches over a period of 84 years, through 2018. The study didn’t find the same decline at the summit. Researchers suggested that was because high winds there blow the snow off the peak, which the observatory proclaims as having the “world’s worst weather.”

The study said that “regular strong winds (hurricane-force winds are measured every other day, on average, from November through April) limit the amount of snow that stays on the Summit by redistribution, and if changes in total seasonal snowfall are occurring, it might not yet be enough to impact snow depth.”

Murray said the warming raises questions not just about the future impact on the mountain ecosystem but on the ski business and outdoor recreation in the area. The answer, she said, is to reduce carbon emissions.

“There’s things we can do,” she said. “While we are trending in a direction we don’t want to be, we can all pitch in to solve this problem, whether it’s through who we vote for or how we reduce our own carbon footprint.”



Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.