The National Wildlife Federation

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Oddball Winter Weather

  • Aileo Weinmann
  • Jan 28, 2010

Global warming is having a seemingly peculiar effect on winter in the continental United States.

The National Wildlife Federation’s new report, Odd-ball Winter Weather: Global Warming’s Wake-Up Call for the Northern United States details how wintertime temperatures have been increasing across the northern United States.

  • Since the 1970s December-February temperature increases have ranged from 1 to 2 degrees in the Pacific Northwest to about 4 degrees in the Northeast to more than 6 degrees in Alaska.
  • Winters are getting shorter, too. Spring arrives 10-14 days earlier than it did just 20 years ago.

Global warming is bringing a clear trend toward heavier precipitation events.

  • Many areas are seeing bigger and more intense snowstorms, especially in the upper Midwest and Northeast.
  • Global warming is shifting storm tracks northward. Areas from the Dakotas eastward to northern Michigan have seen a trend toward more heavy snowfall season.

Many nasty pests are expanding further north or are no longer being kept in check by frosts or sufficiently cold temperatures.

  • The ticks responsible for carrying Lyme disease are one example of projected range expansion as winters become milder.
  • Millions of acres of pine forests across the Western United States, Alaska, and Canada have been decimated by pine bark beetle infestations in recent years. Higher temperatures have enhanced winter survival of the beetle larvae.

Large economic uncertainty and potential losses are in store for many communities, especially in regions where winter recreation provides significant tourism revenue.

  • A number of Northeastern ski areas are likely to see a 25-45 percent decline in the length of their ski season by the 2070s.
  • Lakes across the Midwest are freezing later and have thinner ice, often leading to ice conditions to dangerous for safe ice fishing.
  • Removing snow and ice from our roadways cost states more than $1.2 billion each year on average from 1998 to 2007.

Important steps to reduce the risks include:

  • Curbing global warming pollution to minimize future oddball winter weather.
  • Accounting for greater variability in snow removal and flood management programs.
  • Safeguarding wildlife, fish and habitats from more unpredictable winter weather.

Oddball Winter Weather

Climate change's wake-up call for the northern United States.

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