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.