It’s not just this winter. Winter cold snaps are getting shorter.

Weather

Image Credit: Climate Central

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE & Climate Central) – You may have noticed the lack of extended cold snaps in Fort Wayne this winter. December was 5° above average and January is running 7.7° above average (with data through January 21).

While this season is just one piece of our winter weather data through the years, Climate Central has analyzed changes in our local climate over recent decades and has made an interesting finding.

Rising temperatures sometimes seem most noticeable during periods of extreme heat such as summer heat waves. However, for much of the U.S., winter is the fastest warming season. Cold weather still occurs in a warming climate but, on average, winters are not as cold as they used to be and cold snaps that do happen are becoming shorter and less frequent.

Image Credit: Climate Central

The Climate Central team analyzed how the number of consecutive winter days below average has changed across the U.S. since 1970. Of the stations analyzed (242), we found that 96% (232) experienced shorter cold streaks, with the average trend across stations showing a reduction by almost five days. Locations experiencing shorter periods of cold aren’t concentrated in any one part of the country, with Las Vegas showing the greatest losses with approximately 18 fewer cold days, followed by Topeka, Kan. (13 days), Chico, Calif. (13 days), St Louis (12 days) and Philadelphia (12 days).

Warmer winters may seem like an inviting prospect, but they come with consequences that aren’t always immediately obvious. Cold temperatures are important in limiting pest populations—which is why many parts of the country have experienced expansions in mosquito seasons. Periods of consistent cold are important for plant development – for instance,  fruit trees (such as apple, peach and cherry trees) rely on this time of dormancy in order to produce fruit the following spring and summer. Some local communities also depend on cold weather for the success of winter-based economies, such as ski resorts, as well as for the continuity of traditional and indigenous practices, such as ice fishing.

METHODOLOGY

Winter data (December, January, and February) were collected from the Applied Climate Information System. The graph indicates each year’s highest number of consecutive winter days below the 1981-2010 NOAA/NCEI climate normal. Displayed trend lines are based on a mathematical linear regression.

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