EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Does it seem like we’re getting less snow than we did back in the 80s or 90s? Snowfall data is beginning to back that up.
We shoveled through recent snowfall data and noticed a trend: less and less snowfall. There are likely a few reasons for that.
“The trend has been going down,” said Lenny Giuliano, the State Meteorologist, working with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM).
“You do get some spikes, but the overall trend for the last 20 years has been going down,” he added.
The data backs that up. Using data from 2003 to 2023, we see numerous spikes, but also many years with only a little bit of snow.
“We’re not as cold as we used to be. Last winter, the ponds didn’t freeze. We didn’t get a lot of snow,” Giuliano said.
Last winter, not even one foot of snow fell at TF Green Airport where Rhode Island’s official climate records are measured.
Consistent snowfall records have been kept for the Providence area since 1904. The long-term trend actually shows a steady rise in snowfall, likely due to rising temperatures.
You’ll notice a gap in the data from the mid-90s into 2002. The National Weather Service determined that the way snow was measured at T.F. Green Airport was not accurate during that time frame. Those years have not been considered in our analysis.
As temperatures warm, the air can hold more water. For every 1°C of warming, the air can hold 7% more water. We’ve seen a steady rise in all winter precipitation, including snowfall, in the past 120 years.
“Back in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, we used to get a lot of snow, and obviously it was a lot colder then. From the 80s, it seems it seems to be trending down,” said Giuliano.
“There could be a couple of things leading to that,” said Joe Poccia, an air quality specialist and climate change meteorologist with the RIDEM.
“The first is climate change, and climate change’s effect on New England and warmer than average temperatures,” Poccia added.
Winter temperatures, especially, have been rising in recent decades, getting to a point where we’re seeing more wintry mixes and rain.
Perhaps, warmer air and warmer ocean temperatures have begun to reduce the amount of snow we’ve been getting.
“Another thing is the different oscillations and different climate patterns,” Poccia said.
One of those oscillations is La Nina or El Nino where cold or warm water rises off the Pacific Coast of South America. Currently, an El Nino is underway there.
These phenomena can alter global weather patterns, usually giving Southern New England warmer-than-normal winters.
Poccia continued, “With the effects of climate change and stronger El Ninos and different kinds of patterns that we may not have seen before, I think the overall trend is for Southern New England to keep getting warmer to have us keep getting below normal snowfall winters.”
This could impact a number of things, ranging from the amount of natural snow at ski resorts to work for snow plow operators and even tick populations.
“New England is becoming the Mid Atlantic, where they get an occasional snow storm, mainly rain storms. It seems like that’s the norm up here now,” Giuliano said.
Although the trend is for less snow, that does not mean we can’t see a big snowstorm or an above-average season.
Another impact of climate change is that storms have become more intense, which is also what we’ve seen in recent decades.