Massachusetts experiences cold, snowy winters. The state is located in the northeastern United States and has a humid continental climate. Winters in Massachusetts are generally long, ranging from December to March, with January and February being the coldest months.
What are the average temperatures in Massachusetts in winter?
In Boston, the average high temperature in January is 36°F and the average low is 22°F. In Worcester, in central Massachusetts, the average high is 34°F and the average low is 18°F. Western Massachusetts tends to be slightly colder than eastern Massachusetts. The Berkshires in western Massachusetts have average highs of just above freezing and average lows in the teens during January.
|Average High (F)
|Average Low (F)
The coldest temperatures usually occur in January, with daily highs in the 20s and 30s and lows in the teens and single digits. However, cold snaps can happen anytime from December to March.
How much snow does Massachusetts get?
Massachusetts typically receives significant snowfall each winter. The eastern and central parts of the state average 40-60 inches per year. The higher elevations in western Massachusetts can see over 100 inches of snow annually.
Most nor’easters, the large coastal storms that track up the East Coast, bring heavy snow to Massachusetts. Snowfalls of over a foot from a single storm are common. Blizzards, defined as snowstorms with sustained winds over 35 mph and visibility under a quarter mile, occur occasionally as well.
Snow usually starts falling in late November or December across Massachusetts. January and February are the peak months for snowstorms. Snow showers can linger into April in some years.
Annual snowfall averages
|Annual Snowfall (inches)
What kind of winter precipitation happens besides snow?
While snow is the predominant winter precipitation, Massachusetts can also see:
- Sleet – Rain that freezes on contact with cold surfaces, creating icy buildup
- Freezing rain – Rain that freezes as it falls, coating surfaces in ice
- Wintry mix – A combination of snow, sleet, and freezing rain
These icy precipitation types are less common than snow but can lead to hazardous travel when they occur. The ice accumulations during storms with sleet and freezing rain can weigh down tree limbs and power lines, causing outages.
How cold can it get during Massachusetts winters?
Frigid Arctic air masses occasionally move into Massachusetts behind cold fronts, bringing the coldest conditions of winter. Here are some record low temperatures from around Massachusetts:
- Boston: -18°F in 1934
- Worcester: -26°F in 1931
- Pittsfield: -35°F in 1984
When the wind blows during these cold snaps, dangerous wind chills below -30°F are possible across the state. Frostbite can occur rapidly on exposed skin at these extreme wind chills.
While those record cold temperatures are rare, it is common for stretches of days with highs below freezing from January through early March. Overnight lows below 10°F happen on several nights each winter, especially in western Massachusetts.
Does Massachusetts get impacted by nor’easters?
Yes, Massachusetts is frequently affected by nor’easters. These large storms get their name from the strong northeasterly winds that blow in off the ocean ahead of them. They typically form off the East Coast when cold air and the jet stream interact with the relatively mild ocean waters.
The counterclockwise flow around nor’easters produces heavy snow, wind, and coastal flooding across eastern Massachusetts. Most nor’easters pass offshore south of New England, which puts eastern Massachusetts on the cold side of the storm favorable for huge snow totals. The Blizzard of 1978, one of the most infamous storms in the state’s history, was a powerful nor’easter.
Worst nor’easters in Massachusetts history
|Blizzard of 1978
|February 6-7, 1978
|Up to 4 feet of snow, hurricane-force wind gusts up to 110 mph
|Presidents Day Storm
|February 17-18, 2003
|Up to 2 feet of snow, thunder and lightning during snowfall
|January Winter Storm
|January 27-28, 2015
|Up to 34 inches of snow in southeastern Massachusetts
What kind of winter weather records has Massachusetts seen?
Here are some noteworthy winter weather records that have occurred in Massachusetts:
- Highest snow total from one storm: 78 inches in Milton during the Blizzard of February 1978
- Most snow in one month: 144.7 inches in Worcester in January 2015
- Most consecutive days with snow on the ground: 107 days in 1981-1982 winter in Boston
- Coldest temperature: -35°F in Chesterfield in February 1934
- Strongest wind gust from a winter storm: 121 mph at Blue Hill Observatory near Boston in February 2013
How often does Massachusetts have white Christmases?
White Christmases, defined as having at least 1 inch of snow on the ground Christmas Day, are not that common in Massachusetts. They only happen around 25-30% of the time in most major cities. The snowpack usually melts between storms by late December because of temperatures fluctuating above and below freezing.
Boston averages a white Christmas about once every 4 years. Worcester and western Massachusetts have better chances, seeing snow-covered Christmas Days about 40% of the time. The higher elevations help cold air linger longer into late December. Christmas Day weather is highly variable though and white Christmases have happened during mild winters and been absent in snowy winters.
What winter weather hazards affect Massachusetts?
Massachusetts faces a variety of winter weather hazards including:
- Blizzard conditions – visibility near zero in blowing snow with 35+ mph winds
- Ice storms – damaging ice accumulations from freezing rain
- Nor’easters – major East Coast winter storms
- Subzero cold – dangerous wind chills and frostbite risk
- Lake effect snow – localized whiteout snowsqualls downwind of the Great Lakes
Roads become extremely slick and icy during and after winter storms. Plow trucks work diligently but often struggle to keep up with heavy snowfall rates. It is not uncommon for Massachusetts schools and businesses to close for snow days during the winter. Travel can be treacherous with icy interstates, airport delays, and disrupted trains.
How does Massachusetts prepare for winter storms?
Massachusetts takes winter weather preparation seriously due to the major impacts storms can bring. Some steps taken include:
- Pre-treating major highways with brine to inhibit ice buildup
- Staging snowplows and having plow drivers ready for activation
- Stocking up road salt and sand supplies
- Trimming trees near power lines to prevent snow-related damage
Many Massachusetts residents have snow shovels, ice scrapeers, snowblowers, and salt/sand to manage their driveways and sidewalks. Grocery stores often see runs on bread, milk, and other staples before big storms. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency monitors forecast storms and coordinates response efforts with utility companies and local governments.
Does Massachusetts ever get paralyzed by big winter storms?
With the proper precautions, Massachusetts can usually weather major winter storms without coming to a complete standstill. However, extreme blizzards have essentially shut down the state before.
The Blizzard of 1978 absolutely paralyzed Massachusetts and the entire Northeast. Over 2 feet of snow fell, whipped into huge drifts by hurricane-force winds. Roads were impassable for a week, flights and trains halted, and schools and businesses closed for prolonged periods. Even snowplows could not keep up.
More recently, the 2015 blizzard bombarded Massachusetts transportation infrastructure. Thousands of travelers were stranded for up to 24 hours on blocked highways and Boston’s transit system shut down entirely for the first time in its history. Plows struggled with the sheer volume of heavy, wet snow.
So while Massachusetts tries to power through winter storms, extreme weather can sometimes overwhelm preparations and bring the state to a temporary standstill until the snow and ice clear.
How do Massachusetts residents cope with the winter weather?
Though the cold and snow can be annoying, Massachusetts residents employ many creative strategies to embrace winter and keep their spirits up when the weather is frightful.
- Skiing and snowboarding – Hitting the slopes and trails across the state
- Ice skating – Lacing up the skates at indoor rinks or frozen ponds
- Snowball fights – Partaking in some innocent cold-weather shenanigans
- Sledding – Hurling down hills and makeshift courses on sleds, tubes, etc.
- Snowmen/snow forts – Building snow creations and snowcastles
- Cozy fires – Snuggling up near the fireplace with hot cocoa
- Comfort food – Chowing down on hearty stews, chilies, mac and cheese, etc.
- Apres-ski – Enjoying evenings out at breweries, restaurants, bars
New Englanders pride themselves on not letting the cold dampen their spirits. From winter festivals, ice sculptures, igloo restaurants, and more, Massachusetts makes the most of its abundant winter chill and snow.
Does Massachusetts ever get winter thaws or winter rain events?
Absolutely – winter in Massachusetts is not always a winter wonderland. Arctic blasts can yield to mild air and rain even in January or February as the jet stream shifts.
Some ways this periodic winter warmth manifests:
- Rain and wet snow – Major snowpack melt, flooding concerns
- Ice jams – Sudden ice breakup on rivers choking flow
- “Backdoor cold fronts” – Temperature plunging 30+ degrees as ocean storm pulls cold air in from the northeast
- Icy mix changing to rain – Dangerous flash freeze as temperatures crash
These winter thaws offer a brief respite from the cold but can create their own hazards. The warmth is usually short-lived as well, making way for the winter chill to come roaring back just as quickly as it departed.
Massachusetts winters have plenty of cold, snow, wind, and ice. The state sees everything from blizzards and nor’easters to subzero cold spells and winter rain events. These conditions can make winter travel treacherous but also provide chances for skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and other recreational activities.
Preparing for the hazards of winter and making the most of the seasonal activities help Massachusetts residents embrace and enjoy winter. People take pride in their ability to handle whatever winter throws at them in this northern state. So when you ask a Bay Stater “How’s the winter?”, the answer is usually “Could be worse” or “We’ve seen a lot worse”, reflecting the durability and resilience of a place that endures cold, snow, and ice every single year.