Vermont saw below average snowpack this year. That's bad news for the drought, and could soon be normal
This winter, Vermont saw below average snowfall — especially across the southern part of the state.
Most regions saw between 75% and 90% of normal snowfall, with parts of northern Vermont faring better.
That's bad news, considering the state's been in a drought for more than two years.
Meteorologist Scott Whittier with the National Weather Service says a strong snow year helps refill groundwater, streams and lakes.
"This winter precipitation has allowed us to re-establish, or resupply, some of that water supply — but not to what we would normally see this time of year," he said this week. "So if we run into a dry April and May with tons of sunshine and warmer than normal temperatures, that will allow for a lot of evaporation and we will easily be able to establish back into maybe a moderate drought."
Whittier says a wet spring could still do a lot to end the drought. But a dry one could plunge us even deeper.
That's especially concerning this year, as federal scientists are forecasting a hotter than normal summer.
As Vermont's climate changes due to global warming, we are seeing more frequent thaws and shorter winters. As a result, snowpack is forming later, and melting more quickly.
In the future, this trend could be the new norm, as the climate warms due to human activity.
Right now, Vermont winters are warming faster than any other season.
In fact, Whittier says Vermont has seen warmer than average temperatures for eight of the last 10 winters.
"Then this year, we were right about near normal," he said.
But Whittier says Vermont is still trending warmer overall.
"That does not mean you still can't have cold, arctic snaps in a warming period," Whittier says. "It just means that the greater frequency and the overall trend is for warmer and drier on the snowfall front."
The last decade was the warmest on record in Vermont since the 1890s, according to the latest state climate summary for Vermont from NOAA.
"This winter precipitation has allowed us to re-establish, or resupply some of that water supply, but not to what we would normally see this time of year."Scott Whittier, National Weather Service
If the world cuts greenhouse gas emissions fast, Vermont could still see significantly less warming by the end of the century.
But it's not just drought in New England that's cause for concern.
As Vermont moves into spring, the National Weather Service says a bad fire season out West could affect air quality here this summer.
California's Sierra Nevada region is seeing below average snowpack this spring. That means it could be an early and severe fire season.
"I think we are going to see more and more poor air quality days due to fires either out West, or forest fires in Canada," he said.
Whittier says Vermonters should expect to see this trend continue in the face of human-caused climate change.