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Early Snow and Skiing at Wildcat Mountain Bucks New England Warming Trend

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The Wildcat Mountain ski resort in the White Mountains will have the earliest opening ever in its 61-year history Saturday.

It comes after a mid-October cold snap that bucks the overall warming trend for New England winters.

Wildcat Mountain spokesman Jack Fagone says it's usually not cold enough for snowmaking until closer to Thanksgiving.

That wasn't the case this year – with a recent week of weather in the 20s and lower, as well as a surprising amount of natural snowfall.

“To be skiing in October is just amazing,” he says.

This weekend, he says Wildcat will have the most vertical feet available for skiing east of Colorado.

Promotions for opening day even broke some in-house records for likes and comments on social media.

But it’s an outlier – what UNH snow scientist Elizabeth Burakowski calls an example of weather, not climate. 

“This is remarkable – it’s great having this much snow this early in the season,” she says. “However, long-term climate trends don’t point toward having more snow in October. In fact, it shows quite the opposite.”

Overall, she says New England winters are getting slowly but steadily shorter and milder.

The region has warmed by 3 or 4 degrees since the 1970s, and lost one to two weeks with snow on the ground.

Jack Fagone says Wildcat’s snowmaking technology has advanced a lot in recent years. Still, it requires temperatures below freezing to work.

Scientists also predict extreme weather events will increase in the coming decades. Fagone says he sees that in this year’s early start to skiing.

“While it may seem counterintuitive, this actually is climate change,” he says. “Seeing an earlier, more unpredictable winter certainly is part of that.”

It may not reflect global warming, but Burakowski says it does reflect climate change overall.

“Resist the temptation to say that one single day and one single snow event is evidence against climate change,” she says. “That’s simply not the case. We really need the longer-term perspective.”

Longer-term, without serious human intervention to curb climate change, she says New England could see winters more like the Mid-Atlantic’s by the end of the century.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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