In the majority of states in America, when winter strikes, it strikes hard: pipes freeze, black ice threatens the lives of people on the road, and many Americans wait it out indoors. For most people, “Winter Is Coming!”—that Game of Thrones reference—bears no good news in the real world. While some states have less horrible winters than others, every time winter comes, it is certainly cold out there.

Given this premise, it’s not hard to understand why many people would see the warming, shorter winters as a gift. After all, they get to enjoy the outdoors a little more; they can play catch, bike, or go for a run. February, usually the last month during winter, has in recent years been showing record-breaking summer-like days in many cities across the United States, including Denver, D.C., Chicago, Wisconsin, and Charlotte, just to mention a few.

Massachusetts is in the list of states experiencing warmer temperatures due to climate change. These warmer temperatures have brought shorter winters and longer, hotter, and drier summers. The Bay State has recorded a rise in temperature of 2.8°F in the last five quarter centuries.

This rise is higher than both the global rates and the U.S. national average. Assuming that not much is done to lower greenhouse gas emissions, it is predicted that Massachusetts could be up to 10.8°F warmer than it was in 1895 by the time we hit the year 2100. Certainly, compared to other seasons, winters are warming faster in most regions across the United States. While this might sound like good news for people cramped up in their homes, the facts of a changing climate tells a different tale.

Declining Subfreezing Days and a Surge in Days of Dangerous Heat Waves

Dr. James Hansen of NASA, says there is now enough evidence to connect the global warming to some extreme weather events of the recent past.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Climate, Eastern Massachusetts could record a 2/3rds decline in the numbers of days with subfreezing temperatures. The University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers predict that by 2050, this number could have plunged to less than 20 from today’s average of 90 days.

The City of Boston will experience a surge in the numbers of days with temperatures above 90°F from the current 11 days to more than 30, with a considerable number recording temperatures above 100°F. The average summer day in Boston will have temperatures to those of the average summer day today on Miami Beach or in Bardwell, Kentucky.

Timing of Seasons Is Changing

White-breasted nuthatch photographed in Hadley, Massachusetts. Wildlife and fish species that go through life events like migration, reproduction, hibernation, etc. Using certain environmental conditions like stream flow, temperature, and snowpack are struggling to adapt to the fast-changing climate. Photo Credit: Bill Thompson/USFWS

With shorter winters and longer summers, spring is now arriving earlier than it used to, and fall is coming later than usual in Massachusetts. As this timing of seasons changes, the state’s ecosystem is experiencing disruption. Wildlife and fish species that go through life events like migration, reproduction, hibernation, etc., using certain environmental conditions like stream flow, temperature, and snowpack, are struggling to adapt to the fast-changing climate.

As they shift their life cycles to adapt to the changing climate, they find themselves out of alignment with other species that they depend on for their habitat resources and food.

Spring will arrive a week early

In recent years across New England, spring has been arriving at least a week earlier than it used to half a century ago. In addition, the region now experiences far more temperature fluctuations than it used to. These fluctuations increase the frost damage risk.

In addition, they increase the exposure of animals to harmful low temperatures and winter storms late in the season. Moreover, the frost damage has the potential to negatively impact the plants’ productivity for the entire growing season.

Changes in winter-spring flow

As winter becomes warmer and spring arrives early, the snowmelt is happening earlier than usual in Massachusetts. The snowmelt, as well as winter ice breakup in Massachusetts water bodies, are causing a change in the magnitude and timing of the flow of spring water that wetlands and the aquatic species rely on for spawning, migration, and the development of their young. Today, winter-spring flows reach their peak almost a week earlier than was the norm 50-90 years back. Climate scientists expected this trend to continue throughout this century.

The lengthening of the growing season

In just the last half century or so, Massachusetts’ growing season has lengthened by about 10 days. In general terms, the growing season refers to the sum total of the days from the last day of spring frost occurrence to the very first day of first occurrence of fall frost. For frosts to occur, a day’s minimum temperature must drop to below the freezing point (32 °F).

High greenhouse gas emission models show that by 2055, the growing season might have lengthened by 19 days or more in New England. By 2100, the frost-free season could add a month or two.

Up to 26 days of 100 degrees or higher

Jul 2, 2018 in Massachusetts. The heat index hit as high as 100 degrees with temperatures getting hottest in the Western Massachusetts. This follows a heat index well above 100 degrees hitting the western part of the state. The temperatures remained near or above 90 degrees high, with high humidity making it feel hotter through Friday, July 6, 2018.

A recent analysis conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that by the year 2100, Massachusetts might have as many as 26 days every year that record temperatures are at or above 100 degrees. Days with 90 degree temperatures or more could hit 60 from the current 7-10 days.

This extreme heat will have numerous negative effects on the health of Massachusetts residents. The elderly, children, and low-income sections of the populace will be particularly vulnerable to these harmful impacts.

Towards Addressing the Changing Climate in Massachusetts

A screenshot on the malegislature.gov website of Chapter 298: the act that established Massachusetts’ Global Warming Solutions Act.

Massachusetts’ very first Climate Protection Plan was completed back in 2004. Four years later, the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) was established that required all economic sectors in Massachusetts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 25% before 2020 and by 80% before 2050. Additionally, Massachusetts established an Adaptation Advisory Committee that would develop strategies to help the state adapt to the changing climate and its impacts.

The committee released its final report in 2011, in which it comprehensively covered the impacts of climate change in Massachusetts. The report outlined the vulnerabilities that various sectors face as well as the climate mitigation goals that the Bay State should adapt. To ensure progress towards net-zero emissions by 2050, the state is developing what it calls the 2050 Roadmap that will identify various equitable and cost-effective strategies to use.

Conclusion

The shorter winters and longer summers are presenting new challenges to the residents of Massachusetts as well as the state’s entire ecosystem. That said, the situation is not hopeless and there are still many steps we can take to be part of the solution. By putting together our time and resources, we can work together to ensure that the earth’s posterity will still find a liveable, healthy planet.

The following are some effective things you should consider doing right away to reduce your carbon footprint:

  • Switch to using renewable energy in your home
  • Commit to a number of car-free days every month
  • Reduce the amount of meat you eat every week (especially beef)
  • Look for and become a member of a conservation group in your area
  • Commit to taking a climate pledge every month to remind and inspire yourself to take action
  • Engage your family, friends, and coworkers in climate change conversations, encouraging them to join you in taking action

Augurisk is a risk assessment platform for Climate Change, Natural Hazards and Societal Risks. We help people and businesses assess climate risks associated with their properties, so they can better prepare for the future.