It’s been a cold January. It will be interesting to see where it ends up in the record books.

While the forecast has a range of temperatures on tap, the minus sign appears for the low most days.

Winter in Vermont is always a test. And unless you are an outdoor enthusiast, this kind of frigid weather has most folks eyeing the woodpile or the savings account for that next fuel purchase.

Last week, The New York Times published a series of 20 graphics titled “Fire and Ice: The Extreme Temperatures of 2021.” It showed — in stark contrast — where record-breaking heat waves and cold snaps were recorded across the United States duringthe past two decades.

Without question, 2021’s extremes were spread across large areas of the nation, breaking more records than any other year in the past two decades.

According to the Times article, temperatures in the United States last year set more all-time heat and cold records than any other year since 1994. According to the report, heat waves in 2002 and 2012 brought unprecedented temperatures to hundreds of cities and towns. Like 2021, 2011 broke numerous cold and heat records. But last year’s extreme temperatures were spread across large areas of the country and surpassed even more records.

The project was based on an analysis of Global Historical Climatology Network data. The Times analyzed temperature data from more than 7,800 weather stations across the United States. Locations without at least 30 years of weather data were ignored, though most stations have recorded temperature for at least 65 years.

“Heat waves made up most of these records. All-time heat records were set last year at 8.3% of all weather stations across the nation, more than in any year since at least 1948, when weather observations were first digitally recorded by the U.S. Government,” the article states. “The world has been warming by almost two-tenths of a degree per decade. Extreme-temperature events can often demonstrate the most visible effects of climate change.”

The conclusion of the lead scientist at Berkeley Earth: “We do not live in a stable climate now. We will expect to see more extremes and more all-time records being set.”

On these pages in recent days (and in the coming days if you read the Weekender), climate action is on the minds of academics, activists and everyone in between.

Bringing the crisis back to an example that we can see first-hand, we turn once again to our Vermont winter.

As the Associated Press noted earlier this week, “The snowmobile season across northern New England is finally kicking into gear thanks to last week’s snowstorm that dumped more than a foot of snow in parts of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.”

Before the storm, riding in Vermont was limited.

Cindy Locke of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, the organization that oversees snowmobiling in the state, told the AP that snowmobilers had been waiting for enough snow to open most of the trails after the season opened in mid-December.

“For the most part, everybody was patient because they know there’s really nothing we can do because we’re just driven by Mother Nature,” Locke was quoted as saying. VAST oversees about 4,700 miles of trails and has about 20,000 members.

That’s a lot of miles and a lot of people. That’s a lot of money spanning the network of trails.

In fact, snowmobiling pumps tens of millions of dollars into the economies of the three states as residents and visitors spend money on equipment, lodging and other activities while they ride the trails.

No one wants to say that warmer winters are not the new normal.

But they are. It is just another sign that, as a state, we need to pivot and be forward-thinking about what some of these extremes — mostly the ones that extend some seasons and shorten others — are going to mean to our tourism, and the economic engine that keeps Vermont rolling.

Yes, it has been a cold January. But we needed it to be a colder November and December, too. And while we are making up for lost opportunities (and revenue), business owners already facing COVID concerns are going to milk every last ounce from the winter season.

Climate change is not just an existential crisis. It’s an economic one, too.

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