New England Will See More ‘Winter Heat Waves’ As Climate Warms, Scientists Say

Jan 13, 2020

Scientists say winter warm spells – like the one the Northeast saw this past weekend – are in line with predictions for climate change.

Nearly every New Hampshire city and many in surrounding states set daily high temperature records on Saturday and Sunday, with peak warmth in the high 60s.

"New England's a warming hotspot,” says UNH research assistant professor Elizabeth Burakowski. “We're seeing warmer winters, we're seeing less snow, and having these events doesn't necessarily bode well for the future."

UNH's Kingman Farm thawed quickly during this weekend's warm weather.
Credit Alix Contosta / UNH

She says recent studies find that these heat waves are starting to happen year round.

"It's not just in summertime,” she says. “This winter heat wave phenomenon is also something we can expect to see increasing as well."

Burakowski says the region's snowpack took a big hit in this weekend's rain and record warmth, which she calls "winter whiplash."

The melted snow exposed bare ground that absorbs more of the sun's energy, causing more warming and release of stored-up carbon, according to another recent study.

And Burakowski says some plants may have bloomed this weekend, well ahead of spring.

But she say the warm snap didn’t last nearly as long as some, more damaging winter heat waves have in recent years.

Forecasters say the region will see more snow and mostly normal temperatures this week.

Click the map below to see details on the high temperature records that New Hampshire cities set this weekend. Source: preliminary estimates via weather.com.

Further reading: studies and articles recommended by Prof. Burakowski: