Past week’s wintry snap contrasts summer of record highs
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
As students and faculty members shivered in the recent bout of biting wind and cold, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the continental United States.
The average temperature for 2012 was 55.3 degrees (a temperature many students would kill for at the moment), making it a single degree hotter than the average in 1998, the previous record-holding year. While students bundle up for the January cold, scientists signal toward a hotter future and what it will mean for us all.
New Hampshire State Climatologist Mary Stampone is a lecturer in the Department of Geology at UNH. According to her, while there have been ups and downs in yearly temperature recordings, on average, recent years have been hotter.
“We’ve had more years in (the) top 10 (warmest years) since 1990 than in previous years,” Stampone said. “Eight of (the) top ten have been since 1990.”
According to Stampone, the rising temperatures are consistent with theories surrounding climate change. She said that as temperatures rise, people might start to see a shift in the climate’s baseline and weather.
“You can’t say any one weather event was caused by climate change; it’s too chaotic,” Stampone said. “But studies have shown that there’s been an increase in certain types of weather events happening more often.”
Stampone also pointed out that the large fall storms New England has experienced over previous years might have been influenced by climate change. At roughly the same time during the past two years, hurricanes Sandy and Irene worked their ways up the East Coast, causing large amounts of damage.
“Sandy is a good example, because a hurricane like that you expect to from when and where it did,” Stampone said. “But where it went and what it did have a lot to do with things related to climate change.”
Ted Howard is a professor of forestry economics and the chairman of UNH’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. According to Howard, the damage that climate change causes the environment goes beyond the heat tolerances of plants.
“One thing I’m concerned about long-term is that it will make it easier for insects and disease of forests and agriculture to prosper,” Howard said. “There are examples of insect species that are held in check by winter from the north. As the weather heats, they can start moving north and inflict environmental and economic damage.”
According to Howard, the warming climate could harm certain sectors of the New Hampshire and New England economy.
“Any of the winter-based recreational businesses, such as skiing, which are an important area of employment for the economy in New England, those kinds of areas are diminished,” Howard said.
Winter sports and businesses are an important part of the national and state economy, with winter sports bringing $12.2 billion to the national economy. In New Hampshire, the skiing industry alone pumps tens of millions of dollars into the state economy. A 2012 study of New Hampshire ski resorts showed that low snowfall for just one year results in $54.3 million in lost revenue and 658 fewer jobs. However, Howard noted that increasing temperatures could strengthen New England’s summer industries and businesses.
“It’s not all negative. The other side is that the warmer it is, the more other kinds of businesses prosper. (There are) more people going to the beach,” Howard said. “However, hotter summers mean an increase in air conditioning, which means producing more electricity to keep people cool.”
With temperatures expected to rise in the coming years, New Hampshire may have to make changes to adjust to its new reality.
“I don’t know about in the short run, but in the long term, it will definitely warm up,” Howard said.