It’s December in New England, but if it still feels too warm out to drink hot cocoa, it’s not just you. Federal forecasters say December, January, and February temperatures will be milder than normal across the region, and this year isn’t an anomaly.
Thanks to climate change, winters are getting warmer across the country, but a new analysis of federal temperature data shows the trend is particularly strong in parts of the Northeast. In fact Burlington, Vt., has seen more winter warming in the last 50 years than any other place in America, according to the analysis, by independent research organization Climate Central.
The researchers analyzed temperature data from 238 sites across the United States to see how much winters have warmed since 1970. All but six of those locations saw an increase in average winter temperatures, they found.
The average winter warming they observed nationally was 3.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Burlington winters have warmed by a stunning 7.1 degrees. Concord, N.H., meanwhile, has warmed by 6 degrees, and Portland, Maine, has warmed by 5 degrees. Boston came in slightly below the national average, with 3 degrees of warming.
Climate Central also examined the long-term change in the number of warmer-than-normal winter days across the United States. They found that 80 percent of locations had at least seven more days when temperatures were higher than “normal” than they did in 1970. The authors based their standards for “normal” weather on temperature averages from 1991 to 2020 for consistency, because weather “normals” — or 30-year averages — are slightly warmer now than they were back then.
The cities with the greatest increase in warmer-than-average days were San Francisco and Las Vegas. They experienced 28 and 32 more days of above-normal winter temperatures, respectively. But Concord, N.H., with an increase of 22 more above-normal days, wasn’t far behind. Burlington saw 21 more above-normal days, Portland, Maine, saw 19 more, and Boston saw an increase of 13.
Experts say New England is warming faster than the rest of the planet — a change they attribute to changes in atmospheric conditions and rising temperatures in coastal waters, such as the rapidly heating Gulf of Maine. Winter temperatures are rising especially quickly — twice as fast as summer temperatures, one 2021 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration analysis found.
The milder winter weather might feel pleasant, but it’s expected to take a major toll on the region, rendering coastal waters inhospitable to iconic species such as cod and lobster, leaving the ski industry to suffer amid a decrease in snow, and making it harder to produce winter agricultural products such as maple syrup. In warm winters, rats and other rodents are also able to reproduce at higher rates, and invasive insects are able to expand their ranges. Plus, it just feels wrong to sing carols and bake holiday cookies in the balmy weather.
The good news is, by swiftly curbing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, future winter warming can be limited.
Dharna Noor can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @dharnanoor.