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Winter Seasonal Changes

Winter Seasonal Changes and Climate Change


Warmer temperatures associated with climate affect winter conditions including less accumulating snows and the earlier arrival of spring-like weather. Winter months now include more precipitation in the form of rain or ice, and less as snow, resulting in reduced snowpack. Ice forms on waterbodies later in the season and melts out earlier. In the short term, as Arctic ice continues to melt, the polar jet stream may shift, creating instead increased extremes of cold and snow in New Hampshire.


How Winter Seasonal Changes Affect Wildlife



Over time, winter’s warming transition directly affects a diverse number of species. Hibernation cycles will be affected by the delayed winters and earlier springs. Aquatic species are also affected by reduced seasonal ice duration and the ultimate warming of most waterbodies. Cold-water fish may be displaced by competing warm-water fish. An earlier onset of spring following a winter of diminished snow cover will result in earlier blooms which will be more susceptible to frost, but early-season flowers are critical to pollinating bees whose numbers are already in decline.


Certain species are reliant on the presence of snow for their security. Both the snowshoe hare and the weasel have fur that transitions from brown to white during the winter, enabling them to blend in with their environment. These species will become more vulnerable to predation with reduced winter conditions. Other species that thrive in colder, winter conditions are responding by relocating their ranges further north. Moose are currently at the southernmost boundary of their habitat and will retreat northward as winter conditions continue to diminish.


Frequency of snowfall and accumulated depths are critical to the American marten and Canada lynx, and both are adapted to function optimally in deep snow. Fishers prey on marten, and the two species are often in direct competition for food. While the fisher does well in moderate snowpack, the marten is better equipped to hunt in greater snow depths which lets them thrive in these conditions. The Canada lynx is at the southernmost extent of its range and only seen in northern New Hampshire. With paws much larger than those of a common bobcat, the lynx is perfectly adapted to hunt in deep snow. One of its primary food sources is the snowshoe hare, and the presence of this rabbit in northern habitats increases the likelihood of lynx. As winters become less severe, snowshoe hare may move north with the snowline, and the lynx may follow.


What NH Fish and Game Is Doing in Response to Winter Seasonal Changes


The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department has continually worked to better understand the environmental factors that affect wildlife and how these factors influence species management. Partnerships have been formed to better document and understand the relationship between snowshoe hare and Canada lynx as a predictor of population numbers and stability. The Department has also long focused on the moose population. This iconic animal is integral to the Granite State’s identity. Managing species is a challenge made more difficult by climate change because diminished winters are an uncontrollable variable. However, the Department invests resources in wildlife such as moose and lynx to better understand the effects of climate change and to protect these and other natural resources for citizens and visitors to appreciate.


Because reduced winter snow depths contribute to drought conditions later in the year, the Department also undertakes a variety of projects to ensure that increased water will move freely during periods of reduced flow volume and increased water temperatures. This allows fish and other species access to waters that will better support them.


Warming Winters and People


On the most basic level, reduced winter severity will also reduce human opportunities for outdoor recreation including skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing, which will directly impact local seasonal economies as well as the state economy over time. Wildlife viewing opportunities of unique species that resonate with residents and visitors will progressively move northward until they eventually relocate their ranges from New Hampshire entirely. Warmer winters may mean new residents to the Granite State as well, such as opossum, cardinals, and Carolina wrens, creating new and enhanced wildlife viewing opportunities.


Taking Action

  • Take extra precautions to make sure ice is safe in the winter before venturing onto it
  • Educate yourself and share your understanding with friends and family about how climate change affects wildlife and habitats. 
  • Start planning now for good ecological health and get involved in your local community by addressing potential climate change issues in your town or region. 
  • Support and volunteer for environmental and conservation organizations that address climate change impacts to wildlife and habitats.
  • Become a citizen scientist and help collect data on plants, wildlife, water, and weather.