How Climate Change is Affecting the Northeast

Posted on: May 6th, 2014 by Leslie_Zucker

The U.S. Global Change Research Program just released the Third National Climate Assessment. A key message of the report is that heat waves, coastal flooding, and river flooding will pose a growing challenge to the Northeast region’s environmental, social, and economic systems. This will increase the vulnerability of the region’s residents, especially its most disadvantaged populations. Read more of the report’s findings for the Northeast region below.


  • Between 1895 and 2011, temperatures in the Northeast increased by almost 2˚F (0.16˚F per decade), and precipitation increased by approximately five inches, or more than 10% (0.4 inches per decade).
  • If emissions continue to increase (as in the A2 scenario), warming of 4.5ºF to 10ºF is projected by the 2080s; if global emissions were reduced substantially (as in the B1 scenario), projected warming ranges from about 3ºF to 6ºF by the 2080s.
  • Under both emissions scenarios, the frequency, intensity, and duration of heat waves is expected to increase, with larger increases under higher emissions.



  • Coastal flooding has increased due to a rise in sea level of approximately 1 foot since 1900. This rate of sea level rise exceeds the global average of approximately 8 inches due primarily to land subsidence, although recent research suggests that changes in ocean circulation in the North Atlantic – specifically, a weakening of the Gulf Stream – may also play a role.
  • The Northeast has experienced a greater recent increase in extreme precipitation than any other region in the United States; between 1958 and 2010, the Northeast saw more than a 70% increase in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (defined as the heaviest 1% of all daily events).
  • Global sea levels are projected to rise 1 to 4 feet by 2100, depending in large part on the extent to which the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets experience significant melting.
  • Sea level rise of two feet, without any changes in storms, would more than triple the frequency of dangerous coastal flooding throughout most of the Northeast.
  • Although individual hurricanes cannot be directly attributed to climate change, Hurricanes Irene and Sandy nevertheless provided “teachable moments” by demonstrating the region’s vulnerability to extreme weather events and the potential for adaptation to reduce impacts.


Precipitation Change

  • Projections of precipitation changes are less certain than projections of temperature increases.
  • The frequency of heavy downpours is projected to continue to increase as the century progresses.
  • Seasonal drought risk is also projected to increase in summer and fall as higher temperatures lead to greater evaporation and earlier winter and spring snowmelt.