New England Sees Signs of Climate Change

Western  Massachusetts  has seen very little snow this winter. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Western Massachusetts has seen very little snow this winter. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Lauren Cincotta, News Editor

A New England Christmas has many traditional components. Trees, lights, decorations and if residents are lucky (or unlucky) a coating of snow on the ground. This year, despite receiving a multi-day storm that dropped feet of snow in some places, just three weeks before Christmas, residents of West Springfield and surrounding towns were left with scarce patches of snow on December 25. High temperatures in the upper 40’s and several periods of rain led to the speedy removal of the feet of snow that had fallen. The large storm and the warm, rainy period after it has given local residents their first glimpse at the future of New England winters, as the impact of climate change takes effect. The local impact of climate change, while gradual, has displayed a notable shift in weather trends over time. For example, the second week of January brought temperatures in the 60’s to western mass, while the following weekend brought an arctic blast and four inches of snow. Powerful, dangerous storms and overall higher temperatures are two of the most visible results of the climate crisis. 

Traditionally, New England winters have low temperatures, with frequent snow and ice. According to Weather-Atlas, January is typically the coldest month in Massachusetts. This year, the second weekend in January had temperatures in the 60’s, nearly 30 degrees above average. The unseasonably warm temperatures had locals outside enjoying an early taste of spring.   Such temperatures were rarely seen in past winters. Of course, there are always exceptions, historically there have been some winters that are warmer while others had severe blizzards. 

    Nevertheless, the overall trend is shifting away from what many residents have lived with their entire lives. Weather patterns in New England usually involve high and low pressure systems, which bring with them different temperatures and weather conditions. Low pressure systems often cause more unsettled conditions and can lead to severe storms. High pressure systems lead to clearer skies and overall better weather days, according to Weather.com.  When one of these systems passes over, it brings with it a certain set of conditions. If the system stays over an area, the effects can last for days. The pre-Christmas storm that stalled over the area was the result of a low pressure system. When storms circle over the region, the effects are more severe and last longer. There has also been an increase in high pressure systems that bring more mild weather. 

It is not just the pressure systems, climate scientists predict that the overall temperature in the state has risen nearly three degrees, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Over time, if this change continues, average temperatures for winters would also increase, making typical winter elements like snow less likely.  However, the weather is not climate and one weekend does not define large climatological changes. Weather applies to more short term conditions, while climate studies weather conditions over a long period. 

Several historic blizzards have hit Western Massachusetts over the past century alone, with one in 1983 that brought 21 inches of snow measured at Bradley International Airport according to Masslive. At the time, the storm was considered one of the worst the area had faced.  Storms in 2011 and 2013, one of which did not even meet blizzard criteria, surpassed this snowfall amount and in 2013 led to driving bans from then Governor Deval Patrick. This evidence suggests stronger storms over time, even though historically Western Mass has been subjected to many severe storms. In a just released report, NASA and NOAA have announced that 2019 was the second hottest year on record. The last decade was the warmest one to date. “Every decade since the 1960s clearly has been warmer than the one before,” said Goddard Institute of Space Studies director Gavin Schmidt upon the report’s release. This does not mean that temperatures always trending warmer. This warming lends itself to weather extremes, like the warmth and winter storm patterns experienced in the Northeast. As temperatures increase, more of these extreme weather patterns can be expected. The effects are already affecting weather around the world and many areas including the Northeastern United States are seeing the more diverse effects of climate change.