Global Warming in New England: Slushier Slopes and Faded Foliage
Life and economic activity across New England is marked by the seasons – maple sugaring in the spring, trips to the beach in the summer, the riot of color of the fall foliage, and the swoosh of skis and skates in the winter. This familiar cycle is already changing in noticeable ways.
Since 1970 average annual temperatures across the Northeast have risen more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and winter temperatures have risen around 4 degrees. If the current rate of heat-trapping emissions continues, summers in Boston in the year 2070 will feel like those of South Carolina today. By the end of the century, average winter and summer temperatures in the Northeast could rise up to 12 and 14 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. Cities across New England, which historically experience a few days per year above 100 degrees each summer, could average 20 such days per summer, while more southern cities such as Hartford could average nearly 30 days.
The character of the seasons will change significantly. By the end of the century, spring could arrive three weeks earlier, with summer lengthening up to six weeks, autumn becoming warmer and drier, and winter becoming shorter and milder.
Slushy Slopes and Faded Foliage
Changes in climate will also lead to changes in recreational activities for New Englanders. Warmer temperatures and a lack of snow are already significantly reducing the length and quality of the ski season. Economically, the difference in revenue between a cold, snowy winter and a warm, slushy winter is significant. In New Hampshire alone, warm, slushy winters reduce downhill skiers by 15 percent, cross-country skiers by 30 percent, and snowmobile license sales by 26 percent. By the end of the century, continued high emissions could result in winter snow seasons that are half as long.
As winter temperatures rise, more precipitation will fall as rain instead of snow; and what little snow accumulates will melt more quickly. By the end of the century, the length of the winter snow season could be cut in half, crippling winter tourism in the region and making ski areas without significant artificial snow-making unviable. Under a business-as-usual scenario, by the end of the century only western Maine would be expected to retain a reliable ski season.
Because of these seasonal and climate changes, New England’s famous autumn foliage would occur later and become far less dramatic, a manifestation of the changing character of the region’s forests. The center of suitable habitat for most of the region’s tree species will continue shifting northward, as much as 500 miles by late-century. Some tree species that generate the region’s brilliant fall foliage may succumb to climate stress, increased competition, and other pressures. The number of spruce and fir trees is expected to decline, greatly exacerbating stresses on the pulp and paper industry in New England, particularly in Maine, where the forest-based manufacturing industry is integral to the state’s economy.
What's Cape Cod Without the Cod?
Declines in recreational and industrial fishing will be substantial throughout New England. New England dockside ports sell close to $700 million a year in fish and shellfish. Even if global warming emissions are reduced now, the heat-trapping emissions already in the atmosphere will continue to warm the seas for a number of years into the future. This inevitable increase will likely lead to a disappearance in cod in the region’s waters south of Cape Cod, and conditions would become unfavorable for cod in the legendary Georges Bank region.
The lobser fishery in the southern part of the Northeast has already significantly declined in the past decade as waters warmed. The lobster fisheries off the coast from Cape Cod down to through Rhode Island are also expected to experience significant decline by mid-century. In the region’s rivers, cold water fish like brook, rainbow, and brown trout will not be able to survive where shallower, unshaded, and slower moving rivers rise in temperature.