Mar 9, 2023 - News

The Triangle's winters are getting warmer and seeing fewer cold snaps

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

This winter has been Raleigh's third-warmest on record, with average temperatures from December 2022 through February 2023 of nearly 49°F.

  • That's according to a new analysis of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration numbers from Climate Central, a nonpartisan research and communications group.

Why it matters: Warm winters can exacerbate drought (because there's less snowmelt in the spring) and wreak havoc on crops and gardens.

Zoom in: Climbing temperatures have also invited the early arrival of our much-dreaded pollen season, which central North Carolina has especially felt in recent days, with yellow blankets coating our cars and porches.

The big picture: Winter is the fastest-warming season for much of the continental U.S.

  • About 80% of the country now has at least seven more winter days with above-normal temperatures compared to 1970, per Climate Central.
  • And precipitation extremes are happening more frequently and getting more intense, which can lead to feast or famine snowfall.

Context: 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 out: This winter has been especially mild across areas east of the Mississippi River. But across the West, it's been colder than average. This is reflected in the balance of daily record highs to daily record lows.

  • A combination of La Niña, a strong polar vortex and a stubborn area of high pressure in the far western Atlantic Ocean favored a weather pattern that kept the East Coast on the warm side of winter storms, delivering snow across the Great Lakes northward into Ontario and Quebec.

The bottom line: Over the coming years, most of us can expect to feel climate change's effects most acutely during the winter months.

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