How the Warmest Winter on Record Could Shape Summer Forecast and HVAC Usage

HVAC Logo IconBy Tom MoorMarch 9, 2024
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Bright sun on a hot summer's day

If you’re asking yourself what happened to winter, you’re not alone. The contiguous United States recorded the warmest winter on record during the 2023-24 season.

An average winter temperature of 37.6 degrees Fahrenheit was 5.4 degrees above average, according to temperature data released March 8 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Winter doesn’t officially end until March 19, but meteorologists and climatologists view winter as the three coldest months of the year – December, January, and February. discusses the impacts of a record-breaking winter on upcoming spring and summer forecasts, shedding light on how it might influence HVAC usage patterns for homeowners across the country.

The Winter That Wasn’t

Unlike the winter of 2022-23, when the western U.S. experienced colder-than-normal temperatures, every state saw above-average temperatures this winter. Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin all recorded their warmest winters ever, while 26 additional states experienced their top-10 warmest winters, according to NOAA. Meanwhile, cities such as Des Moines, Iowa, Albany, New York, and Burlington, Vermont, were just a handful that saw temperatures 8 to 12 degrees above their historical averages, according to AccuWeather.

Snowfall (or the lack thereof) was also a major storyline. At the end of February, Syracuse, New York – the country’s unofficial snow capital – was 5 feet below its normal snowfall average. The minimal snowfall in Michigan, typically a winter wonderland for many, was so scarce that federal funding is now available for businesses adversely affected by the lack of snow. Meanwhile, many ski resorts across the country were forced to close early or not open at all.

Warmer temperatures and a lack of snow are widely attributed to a strong El Niño, which heavily impacted the Midwest and Great Plains regions.

Upcoming Spring and Summer Forecasts

Experts predict the warm streak will continue for many areas of the country this spring and summer. According to the National Weather Service, much of the northern half of the lower 48 states – including the Northeast, Midwest, Great Lakes, and Pacific Northwest regions – will experience above-average temperatures.

Meanwhile, the majority of the country is expected to see elevated temperatures from July 1 through August, particularly in the West, Northeast, and Mid-Atlantic regions.

The Weather’s Impact on HVAC System Usage

The mild winter of 2023-24 not only resulted in diminished snowfall and mild temperatures but also contributed to a notable reduction in heating system usage, ultimately leading to decreased energy consumption and lower utility bills.

However, those savings could be offset due to the higher-than-expected temperatures this spring and summer, when homeowners will rely more heavily on their cooling systems.

How to Prepare Your AC for Summer

Elevated usage during warmer weather heightens strain on cooling system components, causing premature wear and tear, higher energy bills, and a greater risk of AC breakdowns. To combat these issues, consider the following tips.

Schedule a Maintenance Appointment

Cooling systems – including central air conditioners, air-source heat pumps, and ductless mini-splits – should receive annual maintenance, preferably in the spring before you turn the unit on for the first time.

During a professional AC or heat pump tune-up, a qualified technician will adjust, inspect, and clean any necessary components, as well as identify issues that require repair. They will also inspect and calibrate the thermostat, check the refrigerant levels, and inspect the system for any refrigerant leaks.

Adjust Your Thermostat Accordingly

Setting your thermostat higher during the warmer months will reduce strain on your cooling system and lead to increased energy savings. Running your cooling system at 68 degrees on a 95-degree day, for example, can lead to breakdowns due to overuse. Increasing the temperature on your thermostat by one degree can lower your monthly energy bills by 1 to 3 percent.

Use Programmable or Smart Thermostats

Consider using a programmable or smart thermostat that allows you to pre-set the temperature based on the time of day and day of the week. Setting the thermostat to a higher temperature during the day when you’re away from home can result in significant savings.

Perform DIY Maintenance

The most crucial DIY maintenance task to perform is regular air filter changes. Dirty and clogged filters can restrict airflow into your HVAC system, leading to inefficient airflow, increased strain on your cooling system, and overheating. Also, clear any debris including leaves, sticks, and vegetation from around your outdoor AC unit to ensure proper airflow.

Use Ceiling Fans

In the summer months, using ceiling fans in a counterclockwise direction helps create a gentle breeze effect by pushing cool air down from the ceiling into your living areas. This airflow promotes evaporation of sweat on the skin, making individuals feel cooler without lowering the room temperature.

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