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Keywords:

  • climate;
  • winter;
  • northeast United States

[1] Humans experience climate variability and climate change primarily through changes in weather at local and regional scales. One of the most effective means to track these changes is through detailed analysis of meteorological data. In this work, monthly and seasonal trends in recent winter climate of the northeastern United States (NE-US) are documented. Snow cover and snowfall are important components of the region's hydrological systems, ecosystems, infrastructure, travel safety, and winter tourism and recreation. Temperature, snowfall, and snow depth data were collected from the merged United States Historical Climate Network (USHCN) and National Climatic Data Center Cooperative Network (COOP) data set for the months of December through March, 1965–2005. Monthly and seasonal time series of snow-covered days (snow depth >2.54 cm) are constructed from daily snow depth data. Spatial coherence analysis is used to address data quality issues with daily snowfall and snow depth data, and to remove stations with nonclimatic influences from the regional analysis. Monthly and seasonal trends in mean, minimum, and maximum temperature, total snowfall, and snow-covered days are evaluated over the period 1965–2005, a period during which global temperature records and regional indicators exhibit a shift to warmer climate conditions. NE-US regional winter mean, minimum, and maximum temperatures are all increasing at a rate ranging from 0.42° to 0.46°C/decade with the greatest warming in all three variables occurring in the coldest months of winter (January and February). The regional average reduction in number of snow-covered days in winter (−8.9 d/decade) is also greatest during the months of January and February. Further analysis with additional regional climate modeling is required to better investigate the causal link between the increases in temperature and reduction in snow cover during the coldest winter months of January and February. In addition, regionally averaged winter snowfall has decreased by about 4.6 cm/decade, with the greatest decreases in snowfall occurring in December and February. These results have important implications for the impacts of regional climate change on the northeastern United States hydrology, natural ecosystems, and economy.