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‘I wanted to go sledding’: The big snow bummer

Kevin Cotter took his morning break seated outdoors on the front yard during some rain and sleet in Norwell on Tuesday.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

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When 6-year-old Evelyn Warner tucked into bed in Dorchester on Monday night, she had every reason to believe she’d be waking up to every New England kid’s dream: piles of fresh, fluffy snow.

Instead, she woke up to a rainy day.

“I’m really sad,” she said, as she and her 8-year-old brother bustled off to a consolation playdate. “I wanted to go sledding and it’s really hard to go sledding without any snow.”

Such was life across the Boston area on Tuesday morning, as the earlier forecast of a foot-plus of the white stuff gave way to a rainy morning and the hope of a few inches later in the day. As the planet warms, that disappointment has become a recurring theme — and one that’s expected to increase in the future.

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Since the year 2000, the number of days with snow cover has declined across the world, especially in southern New England, which has lost nearly a month of its annual snow cover, according to a study published this summer in the journal Climate.

“Right before our eyes we are seeing winter disappear,” said Stephen Young, a professor of environmental sustainability at Salem State University and author of the study.

In general, climate models call for wetter winters in New England in the future. But the expectation is that more of that precipitation will fall as rain than snow. Already, that appears to be bearing out in the data.

So far this year, 9.2 inches of snow has fallen in Boston this winter, compared with the 30.7 inches that would be considered normal from 1991 to 2020, according to data from the National Weather Service.

That’s despite it being a near-record season for precipitation, said Michael Rawlins, associate director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “In central New England it’s been one of the wettest winters to date,” he said. “But in most places it’s just been a little bit too warm, so there you go.”

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That’s not to say that snow days will be a total thing of the past. Scientists also expect that there will be occasional, intense snowfall events, like the storm of January 2015 that dumped 24.4 inches over two days — part of an all-time record snowy year for Boston, thanks to four storms with more than a foot of snow apiece.

It may be easy to look at a big storm like that and consider it a piece of evidence that perhaps climate change’s impact isn’t as significant as expected. The year of that big storm, former senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, brought a snowball into the Senate and presented it as proof that climate change wasn’t real.

But nothing is that simple. In fact, Rawlins said, the increased temperature in the atmosphere means that there is even more potential for a big snowstorm when they happen. That’s because warmer air holds more moisture.

A snowstorm today, in a warmed climate with temperatures that are often three degrees Fahrenheit above past times, is going to bring a lot more snow than the same storm 100 years earlier. “You can get these dumps of heavy snow now,” he said. Not in spite of climate change — but because of it.

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Still, across much of Boston’s Metrowest on Tuesday, many sidewalks had few, if any, footprints in the snow. Despite snow falling for much of the day at a steady clip, much of it had quickly melted away by mid-afternoon.

In Newton, where schools were open Tuesday, Lucy Ewins, 45, said snow days are far fewer — and often have far less snow — than when she was growing up in the city. Back then, snow days “felt neighborly,” she said. Groups of children would meander between houses, people would play in yards and make snowmen, and they’d enjoy treats at each other’s homes.

Her daughters, ages 8 and 12, haven’t experienced a snow day like that for years — not since before the pandemic, she said. They have fond memories of snow days — of her husband packing snow on the steps for sledding, enjoying hot cocoa, and visiting friends, she said.

”You do need the snow. It’s not just the day off from school. It’s the magic of the outdoors — how it makes you feel cold and cozy at the same time,” Ewins said.

Scott Alessandro, 49, who grew up in New York and has lived in Quincy for 20 years remembers snow days from childhood — the stress of waiting for his hometown’s name on the evening news, the joy of playing in the snow.

”You slept in a little bit, but not too much — you were excited about playing in the snow,” said Alessandro, the treasurer of the Quincy Citywide Parents Council.

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Today, no one wants to be out in the rain, it’s miserable,” he said. “We’re in New England. The thing that makes cold palatable is the snow. To have a season of cold without snow — what’s the point?”

The winter of 2015 was the last time that a winter was colder than the 20th-century average, said Elizabeth Burakowski, a climate scientist focusing on snow and climate at the University of New Hampshire. That means that young children growing up in the area have never gotten a taste of what their parent’s generation grew up with.

“What’s going to be normal for them is not what was normal,” Burakowski said.

A group of girls gathered in Charlestown experienced that new normal on Tuesday. On Monday night, three friends had packed their bags — including snow pants, hats, and mittens — and headed over to 13-year-old Ariadne Katsompenakis’s house. The plan: a sleepover and then a day of sledding.

But when they woke up, they found they needed to pivot. Instead, they decorated sugar cookies and lamented that they never seem to get a snowy day off. Mckenna Johnson, 11, said it reminded her of the research project she had recently done on climate change in the Arctic, where there’s not as much snow and ice and polar bear populations are dwindling.

“It’s kind of similar here,” she said. “Winters are warmer and it hasn’t snowed. I just wish I could go outside and sled with my friends.”

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In the end, it was a fun day with friends. But no snow pants were worn.


Sabrina Shankman can be reached at sabrina.shankman@globe.com. Follow her @shankman. John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.