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Vermont saw below average snowpack this year. That's bad news for the drought, and could soon be normal

The view from Goshen Mountain, looking North over Brandon Gap at Hunger Mountain. There is snow in the foreground, and the photo is taken from an open meadow, looking down through a wide open birch glade.
Abagael Giles
This winter, Vermont saw below normal snowfall across much of the state. This in combination with frequent mid-winter thaws, meant the state saw a fleeting and inconsistent snowpack.

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.

More from VPR: Reporter debrief: Vermont's new climate assessment finds the state is warming faster than previously thought. What does that mean?

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."

A chart shows precipitation for winter of 2022 across the Northeast. Parts of the midwest saw more precipitation than normal, while Vermont and New England generally saw less.
National Weather Service, Courtesy
From December through February, Vermont generally saw about 75-90% of the normal precipitation, including snowfall. Temperatures were slightly below normal.

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.

More from VPR: As New England winters warm, moose are getting overwhelmed by winter ticks. Some scientists say hunting could help.

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.

WATCH: How is climate change projected to affect Vermont over the next 30 years?

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.

More about the difference between weather and climate, here.

"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.

More from NPR: It's not too late to stave off the climate crisis, U.N. report finds. Here's how

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.

Vermont only sees western smoke from large fires. Most smoke here comes from wildfires in Quebec or other parts of Canada. Parts of those regions are also in drought, Whittier said.

"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.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Abagael Giles@AbagaelGiles.

Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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