Mar 9, 2023 - News

Atlanta's fourth-warmest winter on record

Average winter temperatures in Atlanta
Data: Climate Central; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

This past winter has been Atlanta's 4th-warmest on record, with average temperatures from December through February of 51.9°F — 11.6 degrees warmer than those of winter 1970.

  • It's not just affecting your utility bills. It's also affecting Georgia farmers' ability to grow crops.

The big picture: Winter is the fastest-warming season for much of the continental U.S., including Georgia, according to a new analysis of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration numbers from Climate Central, a nonpartisan research and communications group.

  • About 80% of the country now has at least seven more winter days with above-normal temperatures compared to 1970, per Climate Central.
  • Seasonal snowfall is declining in many cities — though heavy snowstorms can still happen when temperatures are cold enough.
  • In fact, precipitation extremes are happening more frequently and getting more intense, which can lead to feast or famine snowfall.

Driving the news: Not only are winters warming overall, but cold snaps are becoming less severe and shorter in duration, the latest research shows.

  • That's partly because the Arctic is warming at three to four times the rate of the rest of the world.
  • In other words, our global refrigerator is warming up, making it harder to get record-breaking cold for days on end when weather patterns transport Arctic air southward.

Zoom in: Georgia fruit farmers are seeing the starkest effects of warming winters, University of Georgia agriculture climatologist Pam Knox tells Axios Atlanta. They're being forced to diversify and plant new varieties that can handle fewer chill hours.

  • With fewer chill hours, some fruit trees and bushes are getting confused and blooming earlier, which throws off pollination schedules and leaves plants more susceptible to the frosts that can still come in March and April.
  • "Even though frosts will become more rare as we get into a warmer climate, they're still going to occur," she said.

Of note: Given that apples already are only grown in certain parts of north Georgia, Knox said they — and wine grapes — are particularly vulnerable going forward.

Yes, but: Knox tells Axios that warmer winters mean a longer growing season, which can allow farmers to double crop given more time to plant.

  • However, she said, they'll likely have to use more pesticides, as pests can likely survive better in warmer winters.

The bottom line: In years to come, we can expect to feel climate change's effects most acutely during the winter — and perhaps see it in our local produce market later, too.

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