Although year-to-year temperatures may vary, long-term trends show that, overall, winters are warming. 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.
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.