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'Significant Warming Trend' Found In Climate Records Atop Mount Washington

MOUNT WASHINGTON, N.H. (CBS) -- Standing at almost 6,300 feet, Mount Washington is the tallest peak in New England. It's called "The Rockpile" and it's home to the world's worst weather.

Blinding snowstorms, hurricane force wind, and incredible cold is commonplace on the summit, and truly makes Mount Washington a place unlike any other on Earth.

Climate records for Mount Washington began in 1932. An intrepid and hardy bunch of men banded together on the summit to start what is now the longest continuous high elevation data record in the Northeast.

Brian Fitzgerald, director of science for the Mount Washington Observatory, says they are sitting on a "treasure trove of data".

"Every year that we keep adding on is another opportunity to look at the broader trends," Fitzgerald adds.

Using the data from the summit and a nearby, lower elevation site at Pinkham Notch, the Appalachian Mountain Club studied the climate of the White Mountains.

"This is the first time we documented a significant warming trend on the summit," noted Georgia Murray, staff scientist for the AMC who headed up the research.

Murray and her team noted multiple 'bio-marker' changes, like the shifting growing season at both Pinkham Notch and the summit. They also found the snowpack at Pinkham Notch is melting out fourteen days earlier than in the 30s, causing a warming spring to come earlier.

These warming temperatures and shifting season affect animals and plants, like the Robbins Cinquefoil, which is only found above the treeline in the White Mountains and nowhere else on Earth.

"There are going to be plants that are well adapted to a changing climate. As soon as the temperatures shift, the plant will respond. But there are other plants that don't respond to that cue," said Murray.

She stressed that lovers of the outdoors want to hold on to their winters.

"It's a really big part of who we are in northern New Hampshire," she added.

With Mount Washington in the heart of ski country, this research is especially important to those resorts. Further evidence they'll need to either adapt to changing winter or face the prospect of less and less snow in the coming years.

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