Climate Matters•November 30, 2022
2022 Winter Package
Winter is warming everywhere: Winters have warmed in 97% of 238 U.S. locations since 1970.
Winter is warming fast: Winter was the fastest warming season for 75% of these locations.
About 80% of locations now have at least seven more winter days above normal than in 1970.
In our warming world the coldest days aren’t as cold, and cold snaps are shrinking.
Warming winters affect public health, water supplies, agriculture, and recreation.
Winter is warming—and it’s warming fast.
Winter (December, January, February) is the fastest warming season for 75% of 238 U.S. locations. Climate Central analyzed temperature data from the 238 locations to see how much winters have warmed since 1970:
About 97% (232) of locations had an increase in average winter temperatures since 1970.
The average winter warming across the 238 locations from 1970 to 2022 was 3.3°F.
Average winter temperatures warmed by 2°F or more in about 87% (207) of locations.
Winter has warmed the most in northern locations across the Great Lakes and Northeast.
The top-five warming winters since 1970 were experienced by Burlington, Vt. (7.1°F), Milwaukee, Wis. (6.1°F), Chattanooga, Tenn. (6.1°F), Concord, N.H. (6.0°F), and Green Bay, Wis. (5.7°F).
More warmer-than-normal winter days
The warming season is also reflected in the increasing number of winter days with temperatures above normal for that location.
About 80% (190) of locations had at least seven more days above the 1991-2020 winter normal temperature than in 1970.
About 24% (57) of the 238 locations recorded at least 14 more above-normal winter days than in 1970.
San Francisco, Calif. and Las Vegas, Nev. both experienced at least four more weeks of above-normal winter days (28 and 32 days, respectively) compared to 1970.
There are still cold days in a warming world—just not as cold.
From 1970 to 2020, annual minimum temperatures warmed by at least 1°F at 98% of 244 U.S. locations.
The average trend across these cities was a 7°F rise, and 42 cities recorded an increase of 10°F or more.
There are still cold spells in a warming world—just shorter ones.
From 1970 to 2021, 97% of 244 U.S. locations analyzed have experienced shrinking winter cold snaps.
Cold snaps shrank by 6 days on average across all 244 stations since 1970.
Warmer winters affect…
Water supplies: Warmer winters can lead to declining mountain snowpack—a critical source of spring meltwater that refills reservoirs, irrigates crops, and helps meet peak water demand during summer.
Energy use in homes: Warming winters have contributed to decreasing trends in heating degree days and residential natural gas use since 1974. But winter energy savings may be offset by increased cooling demand and a near-doubling of summer residential electricity use since 1973.
Fruit yields: Many high-value fruit crops require a minimum number of winter chill hours. Warmer, shorter winters mean shorter chill periods, which could lead to lower fruit yields.
Growing season length: Warmer, shorter winters mean the earlier arrival of spring and later onset of fall frost. Resulting longer growing seasons can benefit certain crops, but can also boost the growth of weeds and pests, increase overall irrigation demands, and shift the range of cultivated and wild plant and animal species.
Snow and ice: Warming winters can affect the timing, location, and amount of snowfall and the coverage and duration of lake ice—with a range of impacts for people, ecosystems, and water supplies in different regions of the U.S.
Winter recreation: The multi-billion dollar winter recreation industry, which includes skiing, ice fishing, and snowmobiling, could take an economic hit because of rising temperatures and reduced snow and ice accumulation.
POTENTIAL LOCAL STORY ANGLES
How is climate change impacting winter recreation near you?
Climate Central’s report On Thin Ice covers the impacts of warming winters on America’s cold-weather sports economy.
Tools for reporting on local winter weather:
Warmer temperatures can make winter storms more hazardous, with sleet and freezing rain. Criteria for winter storm watches, advisories, and warnings can vary by region so check out your local National Weather Service office. The NWS also provides helpful information on how to stay safe in winter conditions, wind chill charts, and an explanation of the polar vortex.
What’s the snow forecast in your area?
The SciLine service, 500 Women Scientists or the press offices of local universities may be able to connect you with local scientists who have expertise on winter warming and climate change. The American Association of State Climatologists is a professional scientific organization composed of all state climatologists.
Lauren E. Parker, PhD
Research Program Manager
USDA California Climate Hub
Related expertise: Climate change impacts on agriculture and fruit production
Executive Director, Protect Our Winters (POW)
Expertise: Climate change impacts on outdoor recreation and winter sports
Contact: Lora Bodmer, Sr. Dir. PR and Media for POW email@example.com; Cell: 307.690.1630
*Available for interviews in Spanish and English
Average temperatures and days above normal were calculated for each winter (December, January, February) from 1969-70 to 2021-22 using data obtained from the Applied Climate Information System. Winter days above normal are defined as the number of days where the average temperature was above the 1991-2020 NOAA/NCEI climate normal. Climate Central's local analyses include 247 stations. However, for data summaries based on linear trends, only 238 stations are included due to data completeness measures that were not met by Dothan, Ala.; Panama City, Fla.; Terre Haute, Ind.; Hazard, Ky; Presque Isle, Maine; Greenville and Hattiesburg, Miss.; Bend, Ore.; and Wheeling, W.Va. Detailed methodology and complete graphics sets for analysis of annual minimum temperature trends and winter cold snap trends in 244 U.S. locations are included in the hyperlinked releases.