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Burlington, Vermont had its warmest year on record in 2023. So did over a dozen other cities in the Northeast

A gray photo of mountains, trees and floodwaters in a small valley.
Sophie Stephens
/
Vermont Public
Rainy conditions and some flooding can be seen from I-89 North past Waterbury on Dec. 18, 2023. That month was particularly warm – almost seven degrees warmer than average in the city of Burlington.

On the first day of spring in 1894, staff at the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury wrote down the temperature in the backyard of the museum: a high of 41 degrees during the day, dropping to 11 degrees at night. They’ve been recording the weather there every day since. And in 2023, the average temperature for the whole year in St. Johnsbury was the warmest since they started keeping track nearly 130 years ago.

The same was true in Burlington, where the average annual temperature reached 50 degrees for the first time since records began there, in 1884. New York City’s central park; Albany, NY; Concord, NH; and sites in nearly a dozen other cities across the Northeast also notched record high annual temperatures last year.

A map of the northeast reads "average temperature departure" for 2023. It shows mostly yellow, orange and red colors, indicating temperatures from 1 to over 4 degrees above normal.
NOAA Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University
2023 was a record warm year for many cities in the region, largely due to mild winter temperatures and warmer-than-average nighttime lows.

While this summer wasn’t exceptionally warm in the Northeast, temperatures were near or above normal for almost every month in 2023, including a warm stretch last month that led to flooding from rain and snowmelt across the region.

“December was pretty much just the icing on the cake for 2023,” said Art DeGaetano, the director of the NOAA Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University.

“Once we got to the middle of December and we had those warm, thawing rains, it was like, well, I guess that’s going to do it,” added Mark Breen, a meteorologist at the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium.

He said warmer-than-normal overnight lows in particular drove the record warmth for the year.

"What we're seeing across Vermont is that we're not getting as cold, especially in the wintertime at night.”
Pete Banacos, National Weather Service

“That's consistent with what we would expect with greenhouse gasses increasing,” said Pete Banacos, the science and operations officer at the National Weather Service in Burlington.

“What we're seeing across Vermont is that we're not getting as cold, especially in the wintertime at night.”

Higher humidity levels across the region helped keep nighttime temperatures above normal.

“Water vapor allows the atmosphere to retain its heat — it basically slows down the cooling process,” explained Breen.

“That means temperatures don’t tend to cool off quite as much at night.”

The warming of the Atlantic Ocean plays a role too: Warmer water at the surface means more evaporation, and more humidity. “It’s all tied together,” Breen said.

The average annual temperature across the state of Vermont was the second warmest on record — 45.8 degrees, just shy of the 45.9 degree record set in 2012, according to DeGaetano.

He says the younger generation growing up in the region has never experienced a year with colder-than-normal temperatures.

“Compared to the long-term 20th century average, we have not seen a below-normal year since 1997,” he said. “That is a long time.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or contact reporter Lexi Krupp:

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Lexi covers science and health stories for Vermont Public.