U.S. Water News Online
PORTLAND, Maine -- Snowfall in New England has decreased
significantly in favor of rain during the last half of the 20th
century, according to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The study, published in the American Meteorological Society's
Journal of Climate, offers further evidence of a warming trend that
could spell trouble for businesses that cater to skiers and
"We compared the annual snowfall to total precipitation at 21
sites throughout New England and found a persistent trend from 1949
to 2000 of significantly less snow for 11 of those sites," said
Thomas Huntington, a USGS hydrologist in Augusta and the study's lead
The remaining 10 sites had insignificant trends.
The strongest and most consistent trends were found at the four
northernmost sites -- Presque Isle, Ripogenus Dam and Millinocket,
Maine, and First Connecticut Lake in New Hampshire. They show an
average decrease in annual snow-to-precipitation ratio from 30
percent in 1949 to 23 percent in 2000, Huntington said.
The percent of precipitation that fell as snow also generally
decreased along the coast, with five of eight sites showing
significant changes over the 50-year period.
Research also revealed significant correlations between
snow-to-precipitation ratios in northern New England, air
temperature, timing of spring runoff and atmospheric circulation.
The study included data from locations in Maine, New Hampshire,
Vermont, Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts. Sites in Connecticut
and western Massachusetts lacked sufficient data to meet the study's
criteria, Huntington said.
He acknowledged that the trend toward less snow could signal a
shortening of the ski season and the likelihood of an abbreviated
stretch of spring skiing.
"We're likely to see an earlier snow melt and more rain on snow,"
Sunday River ski resort in Newry, which averages 155 inches of
snow per year, has detected no trend in its snow totals, spokeswoman
Susan DuPlessis said. "We've had some great snow years and some not
so great snow years," she said.
In any event, the industry's growing reliance on machine-made snow
has lessened its dependence on the real stuff.
"Nowadays, the importance of natural snowfall is less than it used
to be," said David Rowan, publisher of Ski Area Management magazine
in Woodbury, Conn. "Everyone makes snow. The temperatures are more
critical than actual precip numbers."
Huntington said the results of his study came as no surprise.
"This is about the fourth or so in a series of studies which are all
pointing in the same direction," he said.
Previously published studies of late winter and early spring
hydrologic changes in New England during the past century showed a
one- to two-week advance in the halfway point of the winter-spring
runoff and large increases in February river flows coupled with
decreases in May flows, suggesting earlier snowmelt.
Earlier last-frost dates, lilac bloom dates and lake and river
ice-out dates, along with data on thinning of river ice and spring
air temperatures, also suggest that New England winters have lost
some of their bite.
"Although these findings provide further evidence of a regional
warming pattern, questions of the impact and cause of this trend are
beyond the scope of this study," said Huntington, "and this research
does not identify whether the warmer climate in New England is linked
to global climate change."
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