The snow started to fall during the afternoon of March 31, 1997. By the next morning, New Englanders across the region woke up to as much as two feet of the white stuff—setting the record for the most snow in one day in some areas. The so-called April Fool’s Snowstorm melted quickly, but won’t be soon forgotten by those who had to shovel out from it. They got their payback, however, when March 31 of the next year posted temperatures in the 90s around Boston . Welcome to New England, where the saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute!” With such extremes of wet, hot, cold, and windy, sometimes deciding what coat to wear can take the better part of a morning.
The changeability in New England’s weather comes courtesy of its location on the dividing line between cold polar air mass to the north and the warm tropical air currents from the south. Sometimes one wins out, sometimes the other; but neither goes without a fight. Add a constant supply of moisture from the ocean, and you are guaranteed an unpredictable mix. Despite the regular precipitation, however, New England sees more than its fair share of clear days, when the sky is blue and you can see for miles from the peak of Mount Washington. Moreover, the moderating effect of the warm Gulf Stream ocean currents ensures that New England doesn’t see the same extremes of temperature that affect the middle part of the country. Both summers and winters are comparatively mild—though it might not seem that way in the middle of a frigid January cold snap or the sweltering dog days of August.
As much as it’s possible to generalize about weather in New England, a typical year starts with the mercury at its lowest. The coldest part of the year often occurs between Christmas and New Year’s, when the thermometer can drop to single digits for more than a week in Boston , much to the chagrin of First Night  revelers. Of course, in New Hampshire  and northern Maine , that’s de rigueur for the season. That snap of extreme cold is often followed by a period of milder weather known as the January thaw. But that only sets the stage for February, when the region sees the bulk of its snowfall. The number and severity of winter storms vary with the wind. The hardest hitters come when a zone of low pressure sits off to the east, bringing cold, wet air counter-clockwise down from the Maritimes to form a classic “nor’easter.” Spend much time in the region, and you are bound to hear about the famous Blizzard of ’78, a nor’easter that buried areas in up to five feet of snow and caused rises in tides of up to 15 feet.
After such lashings, you’d think New Englanders would deserve a nice spring—but sadly, they rarely get it. Rather, winter tapers off into a prolonged cold season known in New Hampshire , Vermont , and Western Massachusetts  as “mud season.” Despite the melting snow and thawing topsoil, the deeper subsoil often remains frozen, leaving the resulting water nowhere to go but into soupy puddles and shoe-linings. This is the weather that the famous L. L. Bean made his boots for.
Just when New Englanders think they can’t take it anymore (somewhere around mid-April in Rhode Island  and late May in Maine), summer finally bursts gloriously upon the scene, bypassing spring entirely and instilling a collective amnesia in New Englanders, who promptly forget the cold ever existed. Though temperatures rarely get above the 80s, the humid air can make the sunny days hot and sweaty indeed—especially in August when prolonged heat waves can rock the region. Many natives take refuge on the shore, where cool ocean breezes moderate the temperature, and can even make nights a bit nippy. Woe be unto him who forgets his sweater or windbreaker on the coast. Variations in heat absorption between the land and sea cause a daily land breeze in the mornings and a sea breeze every afternoon.
Finally after Labor Day comes many New Englanders’ favorite season—fall. There’s a reason so many Hollywood movies have been filmed against a backdrop of a New England autumn. The days are crisp but not yet cold, and the air is often dry and pleasantly breezy. As the green chlorophyll leeches out of the tree leaves, it leaves the spectacular reds, oranges, and yellows of New England’s star attraction—its famed fall foliage. Not that this season is without its perils, however. While hurricanes aren’t as common here as in southern states, every few years in August or September a humdinger speeds over the Gulf Stream and crashes into the Connecticut  or Rhode Island  coast. The infamous Hurricane of 1938 killed 600 people and swept away miles of oceanfront homes. More recently in 1991, Hurricane Bob single-handedly destroyed Massachusetts ’ apple crop. As October approaches, the days quickly get colder and darker. Before they surrender to winter, however, New England is virtually guaranteed at least one week of Indian Summer, when the mercury climbs back into the 70s and 80s for one last spectacular respite from the cold. For many, this combines the best of New England weather—sun, dry air, and fiery foliage.
Of course, the foregoing describes a typical year in central New England. Keep in mind that the region stretches 400 miles from the Canadian border to Long Island Sound—the same distance roughly between New York City  and Columbia, South Carolina. Correspondingly, temperatures can vary as much as 20 degrees or more from north to south. Boston , for example, averages a high of 36 for January and a high of 82 for July. Compare that to Caribou in far northern Maine , which averages a high of just 19 in January and just 76 in July. The wise traveler comes prepared for anything.