Warming Seasons

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Nov 11, 2020

All of our seasons are feeling the impact of climate change, with winters warming the fastest across most of the country. Higher temperatures during the colder season can impact our crops, our health, and winter sports.

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KEY CONCEPTS

  • Climate Central found that winter is the fastest warming season for most of the country, in 38 of the 49 states analyzed. 
  • States seeing the fastest winter warming are clustered in the Northeast and the Great Lakes region. The transition seasons of fall and spring are the fastest warming across much of the western United States. In Washington and Oregon, summers are warming most quickly, increasing the risks associated with wildfire season.
  • Rising temperatures can contribute to a longer allergy season, keep disease-carrying insects active, shift growing seasons and zones, and prolong the wildfire season. And potential winter energy savings from not having to turn up the thermostat are offset by the warmer summer and fall seasons that have increased our demand for cooling.

Although year-to-year temperatures may vary, long-term trends show that, overall, winters are warming with climate change. In fact, Climate Central found that winter is the fastest warming season for most of the country, in 38 of the 49 states analyzed. 

All states recorded an increase in average winter temperatures of at least 1℉, while 70% recorded increases of 3℉ or more since 1970. States seeing the fastest winter warming are clustered in the Northeast (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts) and the Great Lakes region (Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan). These are areas where winter activities like skiing, ice fishing, pond hockey, and snowshoeing, which depend on snowy or icy conditions, have significant cultural and economic value. According to a 2018 report, skiing and snowmobiling industries alone generated $6.9 billion in wages nationally and supported over 190,000 jobs—often in rural areas. 

The transition seasons of fall and spring are the fastest warming across much of the western United States. Rising temperatures during these seasons can contribute to a longer allergy season, keep disease-carrying insects active, shift growing seasons and zones, and prolong the wildfire season. This year’s wildfires were devastating in the western U.S., potentially affecting public health, and driven in part by early snowpack melt, as well as warm and dry conditions in the spring and fall. In Washington and Oregon, summers are warming most quickly, increasing the risks associated with wildfire season.

A warmer winter season may initially sound good to those in areas with high heating costs. And by not turning up the thermostat, we can reduce energy consumption. However, potential winter energy savings are offset by the lengthening summer and warming fall seasons that have increased our demand for cooling. Further, with more people working and attending school from home due to COVID-19, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is predicting higher residential energy consumption compared to last year. This increase in home energy consumption—whether for cooling or heating—can disproportionately impact our communities. Recent research shows that low-income, Black, Hispanic, and Native American households face higher energy burdens—spending a greater portion of their income on energy bills—than the average household. 

Summers are getting hotter and we’re ‘losing our chill’ during the colder seasons. The impacts to our weather, health, ecosystems and way of life are becoming more recognizable in everyday life. But with a wealth of climate solutions at our fingertips, there’s still reason to hope that we can keep our cool if we take action to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

To understand more about the impacts of global warming associated with each season, please check out a sample of our previous releases (and stay tuned for our updated winter trends package!):

POTENTIAL LOCAL STORY ANGLES

Which warming impacts are most important in my area?

The impacts of climate change will not be distributed equally across the United States. The most recent National Climate Assessment (released in 2018) assesses climate impacts for all ten U.S. regions, dedicating a chapter for each. 

What’s the outlook for winter near me? How will that affect local heating or cooling energy use? 

In October, NOAA’s winter outlook predicted warmer, drier conditions across much of the South, but cooler, wetter conditions in the North, due partly to an ongoing La Niña. Predictions for home energy usage and expenditures from EIA vary significantly across regions and fuels for this coming winter (see their Winter Fuels Outlook table). In homes leaky windows, faulty HVAC systems, and poor insulation can lead to cold drafts in the winter or dangerously warm indoor temperatures during summer months. Addressing these issues through energy efficiency and weatherization can lower energy bills and improve health outcomes. Check out your state’s energy efficiency scorecard, identify local energy efficiency incentives, and find tips for reducing your heating and cooling use and costs.

LOCAL EXPERTS 

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 warming trends in your area. The American Association of State Climatologists is a professional scientific organization composed of all 50 state climatologists

NATIONAL EXPERTS 

  • Karin Gleason, Meteorologist - Monitoring Section
    NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), Climatic Science and Services Division (CSSD)
    karin.l.gleason@noaa.gov 
  • Elizabeth Burakowski, PhD Research Assistant Professor, Earth Sciences, University of New Hampshire 
    Research interests: Climate modeling, winter sports industry
    elizabeth.burakowski@unh.edu 
  • Ariel Drehobl, Local Policy Manager, Energy Equity, American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) 
    Research interests: Energy burdens/costs and inequities, energy efficiency and weatherization of homes
    Media contact: bsomberg@aceee.org, 202-658-8129.

METHODOLOGY

Trends for meteorological seasons are calculated using monthly average temperature data between 1970 and 2019 (data from the NOAA NCEI). For clarity and the ability to compare different seasons, we have omitted the annual data points and displayed only the linear trends over time. Data for Hawaii and Puerto Rico are not available, so the cities of Honolulu, Hawaii and San Juan, Puerto Rico were substituted in those states’ graphics.

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