Chances of Massachusetts Ever Seeing a ‘White Christmas’ Dwindling, Climate Experts Say

Traditionally characterized by snow-covered landscapes and frosty temperatures, the festive season in the Bay State is undergoing a transformation due to the impacts of climate change.

Climate scientists say the chances of ever seeing a ‘White Christmas’ in Massachusetts again may become the exception, as milder Decembers are replacing any chance of snow to rain.

“We’re seeing the edges of typical winter eroding,” said Eric Kelsey, PhD, associate research professor of meteorology at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire. “All indications are that, in a warming climate, [no snow] is the beginning of a trend.”

Massachusetts residents saw its effects on December 19 when heavy rain and damaging winds led to widespread flooding and power outages. 

The rise in temperatures is, in large part, due to the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, typically caused by the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil used to generate electricity, heat, and for transportation. Global climate models have long predicted these changes, but Kelsey says it is happening faster than anticipated.

“For the most part our predictions have underpredicted how fast the globe would warm,” Kelsey said.

In past decades, the probability of snow on Christmas in Boston was around 50 to 60%, Kelsey said.

“Now it’s probably down to 10 or 20%,” he said. 

Beyond the disappointment for those dreaming of snowflakes on Christmas morning, the decrease in snowfall has broader consequences for the state. Ski resorts are grappling with inconsistent snow cover.

The average amount of total snowfall hasn’t significantly changed for now, but tends to fall later in the season and is less likely to stay packed on the ground, says Kelsey. Temperatures fluxes from below freezing to well above freezing has also made the region more vulnerable to severe weather events.

“We’re seeing the risk for flooding increase because of the rain-on-snow events in the winter,” said Kelsey.

Warmer winters disrupt ecosystems and natural habitats, affecting wildlife and plants that depends on specific temperature ranges for survival.

“We should be concerned, for a lot of reasons,” said Kelsey. “Our ecosystems which support us with clean water and clean air are being stressed significantly.”

Extended warmth has led to an increase in pests and diseases that thrive in milder conditions, posing potential risks to public health.

Research suggests some regions have past the point of reversing environmental changes. Kelsey says getting ahead of the predicted changes can help mitigate and even protect environments and people from harm.”  

“We can choose to move businesses, change infrastructure and do it methodically, how we want to do it, rather than waiting for it to be damaged by climate events,” said Kelsey. “Instead of being reactionary, we can be proactive,”

“It’s up to us to decide how much worse we want it to get,” he said.