Blame Warmer Temperatures for All This Snow

The Northeast joined much of the eastern half of the United States as one of the few moderate temperature zones in 2014. (NASA)

The Northeast joined much of the eastern half of the United States as one of the few moderate temperature zones in 2014. (NASA)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Last year was the hottest year on record for the planet, but it wasn’t the hottest in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. For Rhode Island, the average temperature in 2014 was 51 degrees, the 43rd highest on record. Massachusetts had an average temperature of 47.7 degrees, 87th warmest since 1895.

New England joined much of the eastern half of the United States as one of the few moderate temperature zones in 2014. The cooler temperatures occurred during all four seasons. Meanwhile, Alaska, Arizona California and Nevada had record warm years.

According to NASA climate expert James Hansen, there is no specific explanation for the regional anomaly. He did note that warming is happening faster at higher altitudes, and decade comparisons continue to show rising temperatures for the nation and planet.

Hansen and other scientists have noted that the cooler eastern temperatures and warmer western ones occurred during a weak year for tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures and a subsequent lower El Niño effect. If the El Niño effect rises slightly this year, it’s expected to push global temperatures higher.

“For global average temperature, the previous record warm year before 2012 was 1998, which ended with a very strong El Niño,” said Michael Rawlins, assistant professor of geosciences and manager of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “The fact that last year surpassed 1998, despite the absence of an El Niño, is important to note. Should an El Niño emerge this winter, 2015 may end up even warmer.”

According to scientists with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the planet has warmed 1.4 degrees since record keeping began in 1880. Most of the warming has occurred during the past three decades.

Because of this warming, more moisture is contained in the atmosphere, according to climatologists. This added moisture intensifies weather events, including snowstorms. Through Feb. 15, Boston had received 90 inches of snow — 87 inches in January and February. The average winter snowfall for Boston is 44 inches.

On Jan. 27, Worcester, Mass., had its single snowiest day, with 32 inches. Providence compiled 51 inches of snow between Jan. 1 and Feb. 15. The average snowfall during that period is 17.5 inches. The Jan. 27 blizzard dumped 19 inches of snow across Rhode Island, the third-heaviest storm since the Blizzard of 1978, which dumped 28.5 inches.

In 2014, precipitation was somewhat wetter than average across New England. Massachusetts received 49.8 inches of precipitation, which is 102 percent of the normal level.

As the five-year anniversary of the March floods of 2010 approaches, it’s worth noting that the five wettest years in Rhode Island are 1983, 1972, 1979, 2005, and 2008; 1983 was the wettest year with 67.5 inches of precipitation.

The top five warmest summers in Rhode Island were 2010, 1983, 2005, 1944 and 1943; 2010 was the warmest with an average temperature of 74 degrees.