La Niña is here and, this winter, Boston might be colder and snowier

BOSTON – The consequences of climate change are being felt here in Boston with constant shifts in weather and temperature. That unpredictability has scientists believing in different outcomes for the upcoming winter.

“In New England, generally climate models are predicting, of course, an increasing temperature, but also an increasing precipitation, and particularly increases in severe precipitation,” Erwin Monier, a research scientist at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, said. In other words, Boston may get warmer and wetter this winter.

There are a variety of reports predicting Boston’s weather this winter in the Boston Globe with headlines like “Our Winters Are Getting Shorter — And Warmer,” “Winter To Be Average, Drought To Persist, Officials Say” and “Hottest Summer? Snowiest Winter? Data Show Weather Is Getting More Extreme.” Some scientists predict this winter will be warmer, while others disagree.

Monier, who is a lead climate scientist for the Climate Change Impacts and Risk Analysis (CIRA) project led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, believes that even though climate change is becoming more apparent with ever changing weather patterns, it doesn’t follow a specific formula.

“The trend of temperature is increasing, but not every single winter, not every winter after another gets warmer,” Monier said. “Boston has quite variable weather, what we call natural variability. So there can be a trend where the temperature is increasing, but some years can have very cold temperature, much colder than the years before.”

A sketch by Erwin Monier of global temperature across time.

There are two phases of a recurring climate patterns across the tropical Pacific: El Niño – which is a warmer phase – and La Niña , a cooler phase. This winter, Monier predicts that Boston will see La Niña.

“In Boston, whether you’re in El Niño or La Niña, [it] has implications, particularly for how cold and wet winters can be. So last year we were in El Niño. This year will be in La Niña. On average, during the La Niña, it tends to be colder and it tends to be more wet. It doesn’t mean this year [it] will be the case. It doesn’t mean every single year with La Niña, Boston will be very cold and a lot of snow. But it means it’s more likely to be colder than usual and to have more snow than usual,” Monier said.

As to whether that will mean more severe storms, Monier said that even if it Boston sees a colder winter, it doesn’t mean there will be more blizzards. “It could snow everyday,” he reckons. “Or the city could have just three big blizzards this winter.”

Although it was considered a mild November, it’s more likely to get much colder and snowier in December, which is more typical of the New England of old.