ROCHESTER, N.Y. — As the Northeast hunkers down for winter, hot-weather worshippers with forgetful dispositions can take heart: New Hampshire, Rhode Island and a handful of New England cities from Hartford and Boston to Caribou, Maine, are coming off their warmest year on record.
Climatologists at Cornell University said Wednesday that 23 of the 35 cities they monitor in 12 Northeastern states had an average temperature in 2010 that ranked among the 10 hottest on record.
In most cases, last year’s all-time highs were just fractions of a degree warmer than previous records. But in Caribou, which had a noticeably balmy autumn, the average 44.2-degree Fahrenheit mark was almost 2 points above the record set there in 2006.
“Usually we’re covered by now with snow, and it’s bitterly cold,” Caribou resident Kim Bennett, an administrator at an auto dealership, said Wednesday. “We’ve actually had very nice weather where you rarely need your mittens or your hat.”
Overall, 2010 was the fifth-warmest year in the Northeast since record keeping for the region began in 1895, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center. It was 49.2 degrees on average. The warmest year was 1998, when it hit 50 degrees.
“If we look across the Northeast, pretty much every month over the last year has been above normal with the exception of December in some places,” said Art DeGaetano, a Cornell professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, who directs the climate center at the Ivy League school in Ithaca, N.Y.
“We were looking at this going into December. And just the fact that December has been so cold, this might come as a surprise to many people who maybe have a short-term memory and just say, ‘Whoa, what are they talking about!”’
It averaged 52.9 degrees in Rhode Island, toppling a 52.6-degree record set in 1998 and again in 1999. New Hampshire’s heat edged up to 46.7 degrees from 46.6 degrees in 1998. Maine recorded its second-warmest year, New Jersey its third-, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts their fourth- and New York and Delaware their sixth-.
“Maine’s warmest year was in 1913, Massachusetts’ in 1949, Vermont’s in 1953 and West Virginia’s in 1921,” DeGaetano said. “But all the others were either 1998 or 2010. On the city list of warmest years, 1998 pops up quite a bit, and 1991 is there once or twice.”
“Clearly this is a continuation of trends we’ve seen over the last couple of decades. It fits the pattern of what we expect to see in terms of global warming.
“To play the other side of the coin, just looking at one year is not enough to raise the alarm. You might say, ‘You’re like Chicken Little.’ But the fact that we’ve seen so many of these warm years, warm winters, over the last 30 or so years, I would say people should take notice.”
In addition, DeGaetano said, El Nino and the North Atlantic Oscillation, a pair of changing weather patterns in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, played a role in the 2010 warm-up.
“A lot of the warmth we see, particularly in northern Maine, can be attributed to natural oscillations in the atmosphere, and that kind of keeps them cloudier, doesn’t let them cool off as much,” he said.
Associated Press writer David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.