Winters are getting warmer and shorter in Maine leaving ponds unable to freeze as hard as in years past. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

Things are heating up in Bangor.

The average December temperature was 30.9 degrees Fahrenheit, 5 degrees above normal for the Queen City, according to the scientific group Climate Central that tracks weather trends and information in 182 locations across the country.

Of those 182, Bangor was the warmest location relative to normal in December.

In addition, the 4.09 inches of precipitation Bangor received that month was 110 percent of the typical average for December.

All of this fits with the overall warming trend in Maine, according to Sean Birkel, the state climatologist at the University of Maine Climate Change Institute. The higher temperatures and less snow have major ripple effects across the state.

“If we look at the larger statewide scales, winters in Maine are warming on average, though there is still variability season to season and month to month,” Birkel said. “A very warm December fits into that overall pattern we have been observing.”

In Bangor, December temperatures have warmed by 5.2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970, according to Jen Brady, senior data analyst with Climate Change.

It’s not just the temperatures. The overall length of Maine’s snow season is declining, according to Birkel. Over the past several decades, the length of time the ground is covered by snow has decreased by two weeks in southern and coastal areas of the state.

“We have ecosystems and animal habitats where a particular species has a niche and is surviving under favorable climate conditions,” Birkel said. “As temperatures warm up and winters diminish in severity, this will begin to impact the behavior of different animals and they may start to seek different, more favorable habitats.”

Over time, this could mean animals that have evolved to thrive under colder conditions may migrate north in search of those temperatures.

“They will want to stay within those favorable climate conditions,” Birkel said. “This will not happen overnight — it could take years or decades.”

More immediate are negative impacts on some Maine industries and sectors that depend on cold and snow.

The warm temperatures and lack of snow have delayed the start of this year’s snowmobile season. None of the state’s more than 4,000 miles of trails are open yet, according to the Maine Snowmobile Association. Snowmobiling is a $600 million a year industry in the state, and a lack of snow is a huge economic hit, especially in rural areas.

Agriculture is also harmed by warming winters. Crops such as apples, peaches and some nuts need a certain number of freezing days to successfully bloom in the spring. Sugar maples require freezing nights and warmer daytime temperatures for the syrup-producing sap to run.

“When you think of crops you think of warm weather,” Brady said. “But there is a lot of life that depends on frozen conditions.”

Maine will still have winters, Birkel said, but they are going to continue to be marked with fluctuating conditions and warming.

“In the short term there is still the potential to see a cold winter and individual months that seem characteristic of a classic Maine winter,” he said. “But we expect these [warming] trends to continue.”

Part of that warming trend is fewer record daily low temperatures and more daily high temperature records in Maine, according to Birkel.

“It’s going to be a different baseline for what winter is in Maine,” Brady said. “Yes, we are seeing cold snaps. But we are finding these cold snaps are not as cold as they used to be.”

It’s not looking like it’s going to feel like a typical Maine winter anytime soon. The forecast for January from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center suggests that Maine is likely to be warmer than normal.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.