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Mud season is bad. This UNH professor says climate change could make it worse

a picture of a brown road with many muddy plains
Isabel Senter
Brave Little State listener Isabel Senter shared this photo of mud season roads on East Hill Road in Plainfield, Vt. This hour, we hear from a UNH professor who says climate change is affecting everything from snow cover to soil thaw, exacerbating mud season in the Northeast.

As many Vermonters already know firsthand, we are in the midst of an especially sloppy mud season right now. Brave Little State — VPR's people-powered journalism project—was deluged with questions about the annual morass on Vermont roads. But one question they didn't answer: how is climate change affecting mud season in the Northeast?

After the Brave Little State team's episode — Mud Season Madness: A dirt road expert answers your questions — dropped, the team heard from a listener named Michael Shank, who told them the climate change question was one they didn't address.

So, Vermont Edition's Mikaela Lefrak spoke with Alix Contosta, a research assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire, who studies how changing winters and changing seasonality affect ecosystems and the people who live in them.

This year's particularly muddy mud season is likely due, at least in part, to the effects of climate change, Contosta said.

This year, fluctuating winter temperatures lead to a deeper frost, which means more water draining out of the soil this time of year.

"This sort of set of conditions, where we have less snow fall, a shallower and less persistent snow pack, and deeper frost," she said, "those may be conditions that we are going to experience in the future as our climate continues to warm."

Contosta and her colleagues detailed their findings in a new study on the future of winter in the Northeast.

Listen to the full interview to hear Contosta discuss a hypothesis about how winter snow conditions and mud season can, paradoxically, lead to dry conditions and drought during summer in the Northeast.

Broadcast live on Wednesday, March 30, 2022, at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vermontedition.

Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Matt Smith worked for Vermont Public from 2017 to 2023 as managing editor and senior producer of Vermont Edition.