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The bright side of this winter's big chill: Fewer mosquitoes this summer

Robert F. Bukaty / AP

With the temperature at 6 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, steam vapors from the Sappi paper mill dissipate into the early morning sky in Westbrook, Maine, on Thursday.

As the bitter cold in the northeastern United States keeps even hardy New Hampshire skiers off the slopes, there’s at least one potential upside to the cold snap: fewer mosquitoes come summer, according to an entomologist riding out the cold in upstate New York.

"Most arthropods have the ability to super-cool themselves in order to survive extreme cold winters in the ranges they’ve become adapted to. However, if unusually cold temperatures strike, it could be below their threshold of tolerance," Cornell University's Laura Harrington explained via email to NBC News.


And it is cold. Unusually so. New Hampshire’s Wildcat Mountain ski resort was closed Wednesday and Thursday, with the wind-chill factor reaching 48 degrees below zero Fahrenheit on Thursday, The Associated Press reported.

Harrington said most insects produce "antifreeze proteins and other compounds to protect their cells from freezing and dying." If it gets too cold, though, this natural antifreeze could cease to function properly.

"The concentration of the antifreeze proteins or the extent of the expression could be inadequate," she explained. "We have examples of moderate overwintering capacity that suggests that the evolved level of expression of these proteins is important."

Despite the cold, the drop in temperature is consistent with the type of extreme weather expected with global climate change, according to NASA scientists. As a result, it’s possible these cold snaps might become even more frequent in the future.

If so, will that mean fewer mosquitoes and other disease-carrying insects will survive the winters? It’s possible, at least in the short term, Harrington noted. "But as they evolve and adapt, they could overcome this."

It's also possible the cold snaps could adversely impact the predators of mosquitoes, such as birds, bats, dragonflies and frogs. If they get hit harder than the mosquitoes, it could lead to a rise in vector populations.

"Until we have a better understanding of the complexities of climate change impacts on vectors," Harrington said, "it is hard to predict."

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News. To learn more about him, check out his website.