Warm winter temperatures are impacting CT's wildlife and business. Here's how
It’s been an unseasonably — and record-breakingly — warm winter in Connecticut.
That warm weather is changing Connecticut with impacts on everything from ski resorts to wildlife. Here's how.
Connecticut ski resorts say reliance on machine-made snow is keeping slopes open and popular despite the warm winter.
“We never rely on natural snow,” said Jay Dougherty, general manager at Mount Southington in Plantsville.
Dougherty said business is booming, in part, due to more people taking up skiing as a hobby during the pandemic. “We’re seeing all-time highs of participation,” he said.
And while the hills are still covered with machine-made snow, Dougherty said warm weather is melting snow quicker and driving up production costs.
“For us, it’s constantly rebuilding — make snow, push snow,” Dougherty said.
The warm winter is making it easier for invasive plants to grow, spread and thrive in Connecticut and across New England.
According to the Connecticut Invasive Plants Council, the state has more than 90 identified invasive plant species, which can arrive from more southern states through bird migrations and the wind. Those invasive plants are thriving because of warmer temperatures, sunlight and moisture.
“When [the] growing season gets warmer, gets longer – that just gives our invasive plants a greater opportunity to expand,” said Bonnie Burr with UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. “We see them become much more dense in terms of how they infiltrate within our native plant populations.”
Milder, shorter winters in Connecticut have all but eliminated tick “seasons” as state officials now say ticks are active year-round.
The state’s Active Tick Surveillance Program used to get 50 tick specimens from December to March. But in recent months, it’s received 800, according to Dr. Goudarz Molaei, with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
More mild winters can keep ticks from going dormant and also reduce mortality, leading to a population increase. It also means they can present a bigger danger to people.
“Once the temperature increases to above freezing ... close to 40 degrees,” Molaei said, “they come out and actively seek hosts.”
The unseasonably warm winter is changing wildlife habits and befouling normal migrations in Connecticut. As Connecticut Public Radio's Where We Live reports, coastal areas have seen rain, but very little snowfall.
That lack of snow can be beneficial for some anmials because they don't have to shuffle through snow to hunt for buried food. But it also means animals can’t use snow to hide from predators.
Jenny Dickson, director of the state’s wildlife division, said warm winters could also have long-term impacts on animals who hibernate and then wake up after its been warm for a while — potentially missing out on key prey items.
“What does that do?” Dickson asked. “How does that change their ability to find food once they do wake up?”
Dickson said the warm weather has less of an impact on bears, whose hibernation is tied more to "denning" behavior than to weather patterns.
But for birds, some northern species have left the state to seek colder areas, Dickson said. Birds like waterfowl and bald eagles have been seen in Connecticut longer than expected because bodies of water aren’t frozen and continue to provide a source of food.