Several studies document lengthening of the frost-free season within the conterminous United States (U.S.) over the past century, and report trends in spring and fall frost timing that could stem from hemispheric warming. In the absence of warming, theory and case studies link anomalous frost timing to atmospheric circulation anomalies. However, recent efforts to relate a century of observed changes in U.S. frost timing to various atmospheric circulations yielded only modest correlations, leaving the relative importance of circulation and warming unclear. Here, we objectively partition the U.S. into four regions and uncover atmospheric circulations that account for 25–48% of spring and fall-frost timing. These circulations appear responsive to historical warming, and they consistently account for more frost timing variability than hemispheric or regional temperature indices. Reliable projections of future variations in growing season length depend on the fidelity of these circulation patterns in global climate models.