Record warmth in January raise concerns of environmental impacts

  • This map from the University of Massachusetts Amherst shows the average temperature departure for January from the “climate normal” of 26 degrees. Last month marked Massachusetts’ warmest January, with an average temperature of 35.3 degrees. COURTESY GRAPHIC/CLIMATE SYSTEM RESEARCH CENTER

Staff Writer
Published: 2/20/2023 4:15:32 PM
Modified: 2/20/2023 4:14:36 PM

With last month marking the warmest January on record for Massachusetts and New England, updated data from the University of Massachusetts Amherst is also putting the region on pace for one of its warmest winters ever.

The average temperature in Massachusetts for January was 9.3 degrees warmer than the “climate normal period” (created using data from 1991 to 2020) of 26 degrees, according to data from UMass Amherst’s Climate System Research Center. The temperature marks the warmest January since official records began in 1895 and the warmest since Amherst began unofficially tracking records in 1837.

The warm beginning to 2023 continues a trend over the last calendar year, where 2022 was the sixth-warmest year and second-warmest summer on record in Massachusetts. UMass Amherst pulled data from Cornell University’s Northeast Regional Climate Center and the National Centers for Environmental Information.

“The warmest January on record for Massachusetts is another data point confirming that our climate is warming due to increasing greenhouse gases in our atmosphere,” said Climate System Research Center Associate Director Michael Rawlins. “It’s amazing that with all the warming we’ve seen in recent years, to see yet again another winter with record or near-record warmth across New England is like an exclamation point on a warming trend.”

New England isn’t alone either — every state in the northeast U.S. and Mid-Atlantic region, except for West Virginia, experienced its top-three warmest January, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center.

While data won’t be finalized for a few weeks, the meteorological winter, which spans from December through February, is also on pace to be one of the warmest on record.

“There’s not much more to say than we must act aggressively to mitigate our use of fossil fuels and reduce the amount of warming that we will experience,” Rawlins said.

As winter temperatures rise, recreation opportunities will be affected and numerous environmental impacts may be felt. Rawlins said pathogen-carrying bugs like ticks and mosquitos will appear earlier and more often with fewer frozen days; snow-melt runoffs will disappear, which could affect fish life cycles in streams and rivers; and plants will bloom much earlier than expected.

Less snow can increase temperatures as the white surface reflects more of the sun’s energy, meaning when there is no snow, the dark ground can absorb more heat.

“In southern New England, the frozen season is disappearing before our eyes,” Rawlins said. “It’s just such a profound change in our environment.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at or 413-930-4081.

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