Earlier blooms. Less snow to shovel. Unseasonable warm spells.
Signs that winters in the Northeast are losing their bite have been abundant in recent years, and now researchers have nailed down numbers to show just how big the changes have been.
A study of weather station data from across the Northeast from 1965 through 2005 found December-March temperatures increased by 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Snowfall totals dropped by an average of 8.8 inches (22.4 centimeters) across the region over the same period, and the number of days with at least one inch (2.5 centimeters) of snow on the ground decreased by nine days on average.
"Winter is warming greater than any other season," said Elizabeth Burakowski, who analyzed data from dozens of stations for her master's thesis in collaboration with Cameron Wake, a professor at the University of New Hampshire's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space.
Burakowski, who graduated from UNH in December, found that the biggest snowfall decreases were in December and February. Stations in New England showed the strongest decreases in winter snowfall, about 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) a decade.
There were wide disparities in snowfall over the eight-state region, with average totals ranging from 13.5 inches (34.3 centimeters) at Cape May, New Jersey, to 137.6 inches (32.5 meters) at Oswego, New York. Some stations on the Great Lakes, where lake-effect storms are common, showed an increase.
The reduction in days with at least an inch of snow on the ground was the most pronounced at stations between 42 and 44 degrees latitude—a band that includes most of Massachusetts, a thick slice of upstate New York, and southern sections of Vermont and New Hampshire.
Burakowski cites two likely causes for the reduction in so-called snow-covered days: higher maximum temperatures and "snow-albedo feedback," in which less snow cover to begin with allows more sunshine warmth to be absorbed by the darker ground, making it less conducive to snow cover.
To Be Reviewed
The research has yet to appear in a peer-reviewed journal, though meteorologists who have studied long-term climate trends said the observations appear to be in line with other research.