The climate of New England varies greatly across its 500-mile (800 km) span from northern Maine to southern Connecticut:
Interior Maine, New Hampshire, and western Massachusetts have a humid continental climate (Dfb in Köppen climate classification). In this region the winters are long, cold, and heavy snow is common (most locations receive 60 to 120 inches (1,500 to 3,000 mm) of snow annually in this region). The summer’s months are moderately warm, though summer is rather short and rainfall is spread through the year. Cities like Worcester, Massachusetts, Concord, New Hampshire, and Burlington, Vermont average 60 to 80 inches (1,500 to 2,000 mm) of snow annually. The frost-free growing season ranges from 90 days in far northern Maine and the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont to 140 days along the Maine coast and in most of western Massachusetts.
In central and eastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and most of Connecticut, the same humid continental prevails (Dfa), though summers are warm to hot, winters are shorter, and there is less snowfall (especially in the coastal areas where it is often warmer), with the general exception of the higher elevations and other normally cooler locations. Cities like Boston, Hartford, and Providence receive 35 to 50 inches (890 to 1,270 mm) of snow annually. Summers can occasionally be hot and humid, with high temperatures in the lower Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts and northern Connecticut between 90 and 100 °F (32 and 38 °C). Summer thunderstorms are common between June and August. The frost-free growing season ranges from 140 days in parts of central Massachusetts to near 160 days across interior Connecticut and most Rhode Island.
Southern and coastal Connecticut is the broad transition zone from continental climates to temperate climates to the south. The coast of Connecticut from Stamford, through the Bridgeport/New Haven area to New London is the mildest area of New England. Summers are frequently hot and humid, and winters are cool with a mix of snow and rain. Most cities along the Connecticut coast average 20 to 25 inches (510 to 640 mm) of snow annually, though in some winters there is little snowfall. Winters also tend to be sunnier in southern Connecticut and southern Rhode Island compared to northern and central New England. Summers can be hot and humid, and thunderstorms are common from June through September. Tropical cyclones have struck southern Connecticut and coastal Rhode Island several times, including in 1938 and 1954 (Hurricane Carol) when several hundred people were killed. The frost-free growing season approaches 200 days along the Connecticut coast.
New England’s climate is straightfoward, and its seasons are distinct.
Coming late and staying only briefly, spring in New England is often a disappointment.
The week or two of spring days in April, May and June are a delight, with cool temperatures in the evening and just the perfect degree of warmth during the day, in bright, clear sun.
But the delight of spring may be so brief that New Englanders joke “Oh, spring…yeah, last year it was on a Tuesday.”
In the countryside the thaw brings “mud time,” the period between frost and spring planting.
Thus many country inns, resorts, and amusements close for a few weeks in April.
By mid-June, New England’s climate is well into summer, and despite the region’s northerly and coastal location, it can be pretty hot and sometimes quite humid.July is reliably warmer, and August—particularly its middle and late weeks—is warmest of all.
Autumn days are still warm and pleasant, nights a bit chilly but not uncomfortably so.
A New England winter may be bitterly cold, but at least the gray snowy days alternate with brilliant, crisp, sunny days when the air is cold but the sun’s warmth brings people out of their homes to enjoy winter sports.
Winter varies greatly from year to year, and from northern New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont) to southern New England (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island).
Freezing temperatures dipping below 0°C arrive in northern New England in November, and in the south in early to mid-December.
In the winter of 1976-77, the region had 15 cm of snow in November, which is early. The first flurries usually come to southern New England and the lower elevations in the north in mid-December, when hopes are high that the snow will enhance good skiing and snowboarding duringthe Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
If there is no snow, but the weather is particularly cold, New Englanders like me hope for five or six days below freezing (32°F/0°C) so the ponds will freeze for good ice skating.
Once the big snowfalls come and cover the ponds, skating may be over.
Mid Winter Thaw
Sometimes called a “January thaw”, it brings a respite from the often-intense freezing cold, a gift from New England’s quirky climate to the snow-clad landscape.
During a mid-winter thaw, temperatures may rise into the 60°s F (15° C), or even the low 70°s F(20° C) in southern New England for a few days, melting snow and ice, bringing people out of doors to sit in the sun, and generally lightening the load of cold in a winter of New England’s climate.
But there is no guarantee that any particular winter will have a mid-winter thaw. It may or may not happen—which is what makes it such a precious interlude when it does.
After the thaw, New Englanders go back to winter, the coldest of it, with frozen lakes and ponds—and, in a particularly cold winter, frozen rivers—but also abundant snow on the ski slopes of the northern states (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine).
If the snow is a nuisance in the cities and a burden to workers in country towns, it is also beautiful, dramatic, and just the thing for outdoor winter sports: downhill skiing, cross-country (Nordic) skiing, snowboarding, snow-shoeing, snow-tubing and air-boarding.
Even if your favorite part of winter is sitting in a pleasant country inn, next to a crackling wood fire, sipping a cup of hot chocolate, you’ll still recall with pleasure the warm respite of a New Englandmid-winter thaw.
Mount Washington Weather
No New England forecasts or generalizations apply to the weather on Mount Washington in New Hampshire.
This highest peak in New England (6288 ft, 1917 meters) is said to have the worst weather in all the USA.
New Englanders delight in exchanging horror stories of the latest report of extreme weather: winds of 150 miles per hour (the record is 211 mph/340 kph!), temperatures of -47°F/-99°C, wind-chill factors that don’t seem earthly.
Regional news media often carry the reports even though they don’t really affect anyone but the forlorn weather forecasters at the Mount Washington Observatory who have to sit through the storms on the mountaintop.
If you hike to the summit of Mount Washington, weather considerations become extraordinarily important, and may actually make the difference between life and death, as hikers caught and paralyzed by severe weather suffer fatalities every few years.