Northern temperate ecosystems are experiencing warmer and more variable winters, trends that are expected to continue into the foreseeable future. Despite this, most studies have focused on climate change impacts during the growing season, particularly when comparing responses across different vegetation cover types. Here we examined how a perennial grassland and adjacent mixed forest ecosystem in New Hampshire, United States, responded to a period of highly variable winters from 2014 through 2017 that included the warmest winter on record to date. In the grassland, record-breaking temperatures in the winter of 2015/2016 led to a February onset of plant growth and the ecosystem became a sustained carbon sink well before winter ended, taking up roughly 90 g/m2 more carbon during the winter to spring transition than in other recorded years. The forest was an unusually large carbon source during the same period. While forest photosynthesis was restricted by leaf-out phenology, warm winter temperatures caused large pulses of ecosystem respiration that released nearly 230 g C/m2 from February through April, more than double the carbon losses during that period in cooler years. These findings suggest that, as winters continue to warm, increases in ecosystem respiration outside the growing season could outpace increases in carbon uptake during a longer growing season, particularly in forests that depend on leaf-out timing to initiate carbon uptake. In ecosystems with a perennial leaf habit, warming winter temperatures are more likely to increase ecosystem carbon uptake through extension of the active growing season. Our results highlight the importance of understanding relationships among antecedent winter conditions and carbon exchange across land-cover types to understand how landscape carbon exchange will change under projected climate warming.