Winter was warm
Will it ever snow in NYC again?
Photo by Barrie Kreinik: NYC, February 1, 2023.
Winter was warm
Summer soft that year
The winter was warm
Without a sign of frost
Like winter lost its way that year…
So goes a song written by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill for the 1962 animated film Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. The lyrics spin a romantic tale about how love once made the coldest season of the year seem balmy and bright. This winter, however, the first verse rings all too true.
It’s February 15 in New York City, and instead of a blanket of snow, Central Park is wearing a carpet of snowdrops. Daffodils are beginning to sprout, forsythia bushes are budding, and squirrels are hopping about with bewildered abandon. According to the weather app on my phone, the temperature is currently 64 degrees.
That’s a normal high for the middle of spring, not the middle of winter.
According to local news sources, January 2023 was the first month in the history of New York weather records in which above-average temperatures were recorded every single day. We then set the record for latest recorded snowfall, with just under half an inch on February 1—a mere four days short of the record for the longest streak without measurable snow. (That distinction belongs, like other unfortunate peculiarities, to 2020.) And although the first weekend of February had us reeling through wind chills in negative digits, that cold snap remained a snap only. For the past ten days, the temperature has been above average once again.
Apparently, this winter’s warmth can be attributed to La Niña, a climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean that has been affecting weather across the country for going on three years. From what I gather, its strength is fading now, and next winter could conceivably bring NYC as much white stuff as we’re accustomed to receiving. But this is (pardon the pun) cold comfort for those of us who care about the future of our planet. Because the longer this warm winter persists, the more we’re reminded that the Earth itself has warmed significantly in the past few decades. And winter may never again be the way we remember it.
A few days after the new year began, I went for a walk around 10:00 in the morning. The temperature was already hovering around fifty. On returning to my building, I shared the elevator with a man I’d never seen before. Like most people in elevators, he felt compelled to chat about the weather.
“I’m enjoying this,” he said. “Fifty degrees.”
“I’m not,” I replied.
He looked at me like I’d sprouted an extra nose.
“It gives me climate anxiety,” I continued. “I know the cold weather is tough, but it’s supposed to be that way.”
“Oh. I never thought of it like that.”
“Yeah. It shouldn’t be this warm at this time of year.”
“Huh,” he said, “I’ll have to give that some more thought.” Then he looked at me with a wryly raised eyebrow and said, “Thanks.”
“Sorry to ruin your day,” I chirped as he stepped out. “Happy new year!”
I felt bad for taking him down a peg, but I didn’t regret making one more person aware of the implications of this weird warmth. After all, if more people had given climate change more attention, this might not be happening.
A part of me knows that resistance is, as in most situations, futile. I can’t change the weather by wishing it were different. I can’t un-warm the globe with my frozen thoughts. I looked around as I walked to work today and thought, Maybe this is just what winter in New York will be now. Like winter in more southerly cities: mild and dry. But it’s hard to practice acceptance about a phenomenon that (pardon the pun, again) is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to climate change. New York having milder winters is one thing, but when I know it means that sea levels are rising, droughts are killing crops, storms are killing people, and heatwaves are destroying entire regions, I can’t bring myself to enjoy what in April would be considered an ideal day.
Because it’s February.
The New York Times published a piece about the lack of snowfall a few weeks ago. Most of the people interviewed were disturbed by it. But not everyone is, it seems.
“I’m not a fan of global warming,” quipped a different man in my building’s elevator last week, “but local warming I don’t mind.”
I may need to stop chatting with people in elevators. Because right now, all I can hear is Florence Welch’s voice floating melodically through my mind as she sings:
“What if one day there’s no such thing as snow?”