Climate change

Boston, southern New England lead the continent in snow cover decline, study finds

Boston and Connecticut have each lost upwards of 30 days of winter snow cover between 2000 and 2022, according to Salem State University professor Stephen Young, who tells NBC10 Boston, "the winter of my childhood is long gone"

Mark Garfinkel | NBC10Boston

As the world warms, the amount of snow covering the ground is on the decline, and one of the places leading the way is Boston, a new study finds.

In fact, Boston and the rest of southern New England are "losing snow cover faster than anywhere else in North America," said Salem State University professor Stephen Young, author of the study published last week in the journal Climate, in an email.

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Young's study found that the extent of snow cover between 2000 and 2022 has decreased globally by more than 2 million square miles, about 9 times the size of the nation France.

North America isn't losing snow cover as fast as some other continents, according to Young's analysis, but large swaths of the I-95 corridor from the Boston area into central New Jersey are in the top 5% of snow cover decline worldwide. In fact, Young's study singles out southern New England as the one "major area of declining [snow cover extent] at the top intensity" in North America.

A map showing the parts of the Northeast United States where the amount of snow cover decline from 2000 to 2022 is among the top 5 and 10% in the world, according to a new study published in the journal Climate by Salem State University professor Stephen Young.
Stephen Young
A map showing the parts of the Northeast United States where the amount of snow cover decline from 2000 to 2022 is among the top 5 and 10% in the world, according to a new study published in the journal Climate by Salem State University professor Stephen Young.

New England's winters will resemble those that the mid-Atlantic has historically gotten, Young said, writing in an email, "the winter of my childhood is long gone (along with the small ski hills of southern NE) and the winter of my children (now in their 20’s) is long gone."

The numbers from Young's data, pulled from satellite observations of snow cover around the world, show that, between 2000 and 2022, Massachusetts lost upwards of 27 days of winter snow cover. Boston itself lost more than 30 days, Young said, putting the city in line with Connecticut. Only Rhode Island saw a greater decline in snow cover.

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A pair of climate scientists who weren't involved with the study told The Boston Globe this week that Young's findings are in line with what they've observed.

"What the paper points out is that these changes are very regional in nature," said Mark Serreze, the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, a NASA partner at the University of Colorado Boulder.

He told the newspaper that some areas can have more snowfall with warmer temperatures, since warmer air can pack in greater moisture, which underscores that "you can't think of this as just some linear response to increased greenhouse gas levels."

When kids go to summer camp, they can escape school, the lure of their screens, even the worst urban heat. But there's no escaping climate change. We headed up to Camp Robin Hood in Freedom, New Hampshire, to learn more about how small changes can make a big difference. And as you'll hear, the broader New England camp community is thinking creatively about global warming.

The findings don't mean that there won't be more snowy winters ahead, Young told NBC10 Boston. Rather, "over the next 20 years we will probably continue with the decline in the number of days with snow cover because there is no indication that our world will not continue to warm."

The former chair of Salem State's Department of Geography also noted that losing snow creates a vicious cycle of warming — because it's white, snow on the ground reflects the sun's energy back into space, while uncovered land absorbs that energy as heat.

As for what, if anything, can be done to bring back classic New England winters, Young said that reducing greenhouse gases would "make our future not as hot, but we cannot and will not see a consistent winter like we had in the past."

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