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Record warm winter all but guaranteed for parts of Vermont, New York

A young boy plays with a yellow dog on a field with patchy snow.
Bryan Holland
Vermont Public
Patches of grass peek through small amounts of snow at Mills Riverside Park in Underhill in late February. Snowfall this year has been inconsistent, and temperatures are upwards of 7 degrees higher on average than past winters.

This story has been updated.

Cities in Vermont, Maine, and New York all had their warmest winters on record this season, including Burlington, Caribou, Syracuse, and Albany.

That’s as February ended with kayakers paddling down the Winooski River past snowless banks, and temperatures in Vermont hit the 50s and 60s this week, breaking daily records.

Temperatures collected from the start of December through the end of February comprise what researchers consider “meteorological winter.”

“Even though the month is not over, it's near certainty [in Burlington],” said Rodney Chai, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Burlington, where weather records go back to the 1880s. “A hundred percent it's going to be the warmest winter.”

A dirt road with snow along its sides, and visible snowmelt. Sunlit mountains in the background.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Mud season is already in full swing in Barnard, as seen here at the bottom of Walker Hill Road on Monday, Feb. 26.
A colored map of red and orange shows temperatures departures for the northeast of up to 8 degrees warmer than average for Dec 2023 through Feb 2024.
Northeast Regional Climate Center
Cornell University
Winter temperatures were over 8 degrees above normal in parts of Vermont and upstate New York.

In December, temperatures across much of northern New England ranged from 6 to over 8 degrees above normal, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center. In January, temperatures were broadly 4 to 6 degrees above normal.

More recently, temperatures have been close to 10 degrees above normal for the first half of February — exceeding 12 degrees in some places.

“You're just not just talking about one day, or one week, but you're talking about the whole month,” said Chai. “Here up in Burlington, Vermont, if we add 10 degrees to the climate normal, the climate actually might be closer to southern New England, and southern New England climate would be closer to mid-Atlantic climate.”

A graph of average winter temperatures in Burlington shows an overall warming trend from the late 1800s until 2024, with temperature averages changing from below 20 degrees in the late 1800s, to over 25 degrees by present day.
Jessica Spaccio
Northeast Regional Climate Center
Winter temperatures in Burlington are warming. This year, the average winter temperature will be over 30 degrees, a record high and seven degrees warmer than normal since records began in the late 1800s.

Snowfall has been inconsistent this year, varying widely by elevation. While the snow depth on top of Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield, has been close to normal, the valleys have often been bare.

“We couldn't even get an extended period of near-normal temperature for the snow to stick around,” Chai said. "It’s almost like, feast or famine. The mountains, the higher elevations, are doing quite well, but really, below 2,000 feet, it's been terrible if people love snow."

“It’s almost like, feast or famine. The mountains, the higher elevations, are doing quite well. But really, below 2,000 feet, it's been terrible if people love snow.”
Rodney Chai, National Weather Service

This winters’ record warmth comes during an El Niño year, a climate pattern when above-normal ocean temperatures in the Pacific change jet stream patterns worldwide. During an El Niño winter, the polar jet stream typically stays farther north, resulting in warmer weather across the Northeast. This year’s El Niño’s influence was particularly strong, based on ocean temperatures.

“Would we have been warm without climate change? Absolutely,” said Jessica Spaccio, a climatologist at the Northeast Regional Climate Center. But she said climate change also played a major role.

“Would we have been record-breaking warm? Maybe not. That definitely made us warmer than we would have been, if we weren’t living in a warming world.”

A hand-written sign reads "please walk to the side of the ski trail" in front of a mostly grassy field with patchy snow on a hillside. You can see a bench and a building in the background.
Bryan Holland
Vermont Public
Lower elevation areas in Vermont have seen inconsistent snow cover throughout this winter.

Winter temperatures in particular are warming nearly twice as fast as summer temperatures in many northern states, according to the National Climate Assessment.

As we get further into mud season, the Northeast Regional Climate Center predicts above-normal temperatures will continue.

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Updated: March 1, 2024 at 3:02 PM EST
This story was updated with temperature records from the Northeast Regional Climate Center on March 1.
Updated: February 28, 2024 at 2:42 PM EST
This story was updated with additional cities that could see record warm winters, a graph of average winter temperatures in Burlington, and more details on this year's El Niño from Jessica Spaccio, a climatologist at the Northeast Regional Climate Center.
Lexi covers science and health stories for Vermont Public.