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Mud season is bad. This UNH professor says climate change could make it worse

a picture of a brown road with many muddy plains
Isabel Senter
Brave Little State listener Isabel Senter shared this photo of mud season roads on East Hill Road in Plainfield, Vt. This hour, we hear from a UNH professor who says climate change is affecting everything from snow cover to soil thaw, exacerbating mud season in the Northeast.

As many Vermonters already know firsthand, we are in the midst of an especially sloppy mud season right now. Brave Little State — VPR's people-powered journalism project—was deluged with questions about the annual morass on Vermont roads. But one question they didn't answer: how is climate change affecting mud season in the Northeast?

After the Brave Little State team's episode — Mud Season Madness: A dirt road expert answers your questions — dropped, the team heard from a listener named Michael Shank, who told them the climate change question was one they didn't address.

So, Vermont Edition's Mikaela Lefrak spoke with Alix Contosta, a research assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire, who studies how changing winters and changing seasonality affect ecosystems and the people who live in them.

This year's particularly muddy mud season is likely due, at least in part, to the effects of climate change, Contosta said.

This year, fluctuating winter temperatures lead to a deeper frost, which means more water draining out of the soil this time of year.

"This sort of set of conditions, where we have less snow fall, a shallower and less persistent snow pack, and deeper frost," she said, "those may be conditions that we are going to experience in the future as our climate continues to warm."

Contosta and her colleagues detailed their findings in a new study on the future of winter in the Northeast.

Listen to the full interview to hear Contosta discuss a hypothesis about how winter snow conditions and mud season can, paradoxically, lead to dry conditions and drought during summer in the Northeast.

Broadcast live on Wednesday, March 30, 2022, at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vermontedition.

Mikaela Lefrak joined VPR in summer 2021 as co-host and senior producer of 'Vermont Edition'. Prior to that, she was a reporter and host at WAMU in Washington, D.C.
Originally from Delaware, Matt moved to Alaska in 2010 for his first job in radio. He spent five years working as a radio and television reporter, radio producer, talk show host, and news director. His reporting received awards from the Alaska Press Club and the Alaska Broadcasters Association. Relocating to southwest Florida, he was a producer for television news and NPR member station WGCU for their daily radio show, Gulf Coast Live. He joined VPR in October 2017 as producer of Vermont Edition.