National Drought Mitigation Center


NDMC analysis finds changing snow, precipitation trends in the Northeast

October 17, 2023

The NDMC produced a new analysis of snow and precipitation patterns to address gaps in understanding the area’s changing drought landscape. This photo of New Hampshire was submitted via the Visual Drought Atlas.

By Emily Case-Buskirk, Communications Specialist

Droughts in the Northeast U.S. in 2016, 2020 and 2021 strongly affected agricultural producers and raised questions about how growing seasons are changing in the region.

To address gaps in understanding the area’s changing drought landscape, the National Drought Mitigation Center produced a new analysis of snow and precipitation patterns. The study is a partnership with the USDA Northeast Climate Hub.

A major finding in the data is that heavier precipitation events are increasing, especially during the winter and spring, said NDMC climatologist Curtis Riganti. These trends concur with other researchers' findings and the Drought Risk Atlas

The NDMC’s analysis also showed that annual snowfall and springtime snowfall have decreased across most of the Northeast, particularly in the Appalachian regions of Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. An exception to this trend was in northeastern New England.



This map illustrates the difference in the average number of days in February with measurable snow depth at sites in the Northeast, comparing 1990-2019 with 1960-1989. Comparisons between these two time periods indicate widespread decreases in the number of February days with snow on the ground.

Additionally, snowmelt could be occurring earlier in the spring, Riganti said. The data show fewer days with snow on the ground in February now compared to previous decades.

“There’s evidence that we're seeing earlier snowmelt, especially in early February,” he said.

The NDMC analyzed precipitation and snow for fall, winter and spring in the Northeast from 1950 to 2020 to conduct the study.

Among the climate-related changes to farming in the Northeast, droughts appear to be developing earlier and more quickly. Drought was the most-reported reason for crop loss in the Northeast from 2013 to 2016, according to analysis of USDA Farm Service Agency Noninsured crop disaster assistance program (NAP) data by Wolfe et al. (2018).

Previous research found that winters in the Northeast have warmed three times faster than its summers. But in the U.S., most studies on winter temperature and precipitation changes have focused on the West, according to a literature review the NDMC conducted for this project. 

Maps produced for this project showing increasing and decreasing precipitation and snow trends for different stations in the Northeast are on the web, along with information from the Drought Risk Atlas, to assist producers and stakeholders with decision-making processes. “We have all these climate models and resources like the Fourth National Climate Assessment projecting what climate change might look like in different regions and what effects might we be seeing,” Riganti said. “A lot of what we found supported previous research into changing precipitation trends in the Northeast.”

More research is needed to draw definitive conclusions about snowmelt trends in the region, especially based on the variability of snowpack levels throughout the decades. Further analysis could address the question of whether the number of short, dry periods has systematically increased in this region.

The project is part of a cooperative agreement with the USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist and the NDMC, based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The analysis and related maps can be viewed at