Study: Climate Change Isn't All Bad For Vermont

Jun 10, 2014

The concept of “global warming” probably sounded appealing to many Vermonters as last winter held on well into March.

But Andy Nash of the National Weather Service said what felt like a cold winter this year only felt that way because Vermont is generally getting warmer and wetter.

“The winter we had was really the equivalent of what was happening in the 1930s, 40s and 50s,” he said. “It was a traditional, historic Vermont winter.”

And a new study by University of Vermont researchers says climate change is going to have a big impact in Vermont in the coming decades, and it’s not all bad.

The scientists who prepared the study said Vermonters need to prepare for the coming impacts of climate change in the state.

But with current trends, Nash said those cold winters and many other weather patterns typical of Vermont won’t stay for long.

An increase in precipitation paired with longer summers will make events like the flooding of Tropical Storm Irene more commonplace in the coming years, according to a panel of scientists.

Nash said the disastrous results of climate change are already taking hold in the state. Since the year 2000, he said, there have been 20 federal disaster declarations in Vermont.

“So that’s 20 in 14 years, and just in the last four years, there have been nine declarations, and 80 percent of these have to do with flooding,” he said.

The new report says changes will affect everything in Vermont, from apple orchards to ski resorts.

And the impact won’t all be negative.

Sam Carlson looked at the impact climate change will have on recreation and tourism in Vermont for the study.

“Overall I think it’s a fairly positive outlook for Vermont recreation and tourism opportunities and the industry,” he said. “That was frankly a surprising finding for me.”

Carlson said Vermont is in a climate change “sweet spot,” where increased precipitation has led to more snow, but rising temperatures aren’t yet causing too much of it to melt.

That means ski resorts get more good snow days every year.

But the good news won’t last.

“Forty years from now more of that precipitation is going to fall as rain,” Carlson said, “and that’s obviously going to reduce the snow pack, snow will melt more quickly. That’s going to threaten the recreation tourism industries.”

Gillian Galford, the study’s lead author, said that whatever positives do exist for the state, the increase in big storms and flooding brought by climate change is going to take its toll on Vermont’s infrastructure.

“Replacing every bridge in the state of Vermont is cost prohibitive,” she said, “but the cost of inaction on climate change for Vermont outweighs the cost of being prepared.”