By Carolyn Y. Johnson, Globe Staff
A new study of winter climate in the Northeast has found that the snowy, brisk conditions that are sewn into the region's identity have been disappearing over the past four decades.
The study analyzed a comprehensive data set to pin down just how quickly winter is warming. It found that regional temperatures are rising at a rate of about .8 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, and that the number of snow-covered days are decreasing at the rate of 3.6 days per decade. Both trends were strongest right in January and February, considered the heart of winter, and are intensifying over time.
"We had previously found that our winters were warming up more rapidly more than any other season," said study co-author Cameron Wake, a climatologist at the Univeristy of New Hampshire. The new study enhances those findings by looking at a broader set of data and trends over a longer period of time, and adding snowfall coverage.
"Our hypothesis is that the enhanced warming we're seeing in winter is being driven by this relationship between snow cover and temperature," Wake said.
As the temperature warms in New England, it sets off a chain of events that add to that warming, Wake explained. Snow cover reflects solar radiation back into the atmosphere. That means when there is less snow cover because of a slightly warmer climate, the ground absorbs the heat, further contributing to warming.
The study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, doesn't indicate that each individual winter will be warm -- or low on snow -- but that the odds of having a warm winter and less snow are increasing each decade.
Readers, do you agree with the study's conclusions? Do winters feel warmer or less snowy -- albeit slightly less, according to these researchers -- than they used to? Let us know in our comments section below.
To read the full report, visit this website: http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2008/2008JD009870.shtml.
About the green blog
Helping Boston live a greener, more environmentally friendly life.
Christopher Reidy covers business for the Globe.
Doug Struck covers environmental issues from Boston.
Glenn Yoder produces Boston.com's Lifestyle pages.
Eric Bauer is site architect of Boston.com.
Bennie DiNardo is the Boston Globe's deputy managing editor/multimedia.
Dara Olmsted is a local sustainability professional focusing on green living.