Climate Change Impacts
Connecticut • Delaware • Maine • Massachusetts • New Hampshire • New Jersey • New York • Pennsylvania • Rhode Island • Vermont • West Virginia • District of Columbia
The following is a compilation of climate change impacts occurring right here, right now in the Northeast, as well as projected impacts, economic and human health consequences, and notable recent events. Over 64 million people are concentrated in the Northeast and are already beginning to experience climate change impacts. These include record temperatures, more extreme precipitation events, and coastal flooding due to sea level rise and storm surge.
Right Here, Right Now
- The Northeast is especially prone to have large increases in unusually hot summers.
- Between 1895 and 2011, temperatures in the Northeast increased by almost 2°F (0.16°F per decade).
- In the continental U.S., 26 states have warmed more than 2°F since 1970, and 16 (including 10 from the Northeast) have warmed more than 2.5°F.
- Until 2004, ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Maine were increasing by about 0.05 degrees per year since 1982, about in line with worldwide trends. In 2004, the pace accelerated to about a half-degree per year — nearly 10 times faster. Scientists say the waters are heating up faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans.
- If emissions continue to increase, warming of 4.5°F to 10°F is projected by the 2080s in the Northeast; if global emissions were reduced substantially, projected warming ranges from about 3°F to 6°F by the 2080s.
- Much of the southern portion of the region, including the majority of Maryland and Delaware, and southwestern West Virginia and New Jersey, are projected by mid-century to experience more than 60 additional days per year above 90°F compared to the end of last century under continued increases in emissions.
- Seasonal drought risk is projected to increase in summer and fall as higher temperatures lead to greater evaporation and earlier winter and spring snowmelt.
- By mid-century, the average resident in the Northeast will likely see between 4.7 and 16 additional days over 95°F. By late century this range will likely jump to between 17 and 59 additional days.
- Increased heat will be especially severe in cities and metro regions with more than 1 million people, where high concentrations of concrete and lack of natural cooling systems like streams and forests create an “urban heat island” effect that can raise average temperatures by as much as 5.4°F during the day and 22°F in the evening over the surrounding rural areas.
- In Manhattan temperature changes alone may lead to a 50 to 91% increase in heat-related deaths by the 2080s relative to a 1980s baseline.
- The Gulf of Maine’s temperature is expected to rise more than 4 degrees by the end of the century.
- Higher temperatures permit weeds, insects, and crop diseases to thrive and to expand their ranges northward. Weed control costs the U.S. more than $11 billion a year, with the majority spent on herbicides. This cost is likely to increase as temperatures rise.
- Winter snow and ice sports, which contribute some $7.6 billion annually to the regional economy, will be particularly affected by warming.
- Ski resorts in the Northeast have three climate-related criteria to remain viable: the average length of the ski season must be at least 100 days; there must be a good probability of being open during the winter holiday between Christmas and the New Year; and there must be enough nights that are sufficiently cold to enable snowmaking operations. A comprehensive study on northeastern U.S. ski resorts estimates that only four out of 14 major ski resorts will remain profitable by 2100 under a higher-emissions scenario.
- Between 2000 and 2010, the difference in skier visits between low snowfall years and high snowfall years ranged from 9 percent in Vermont to 24 percent in Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. In northern New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont), low snowfall cost the region more than 1,700 jobs, compared to high-snowfall years and $108 million in economic value added to this region.
- As tree species migrate northward or to higher elevations, habitats of alpine and sub-alpine spruce-fir could possibly be eliminated. If Northeast forests shift to oak and hickory species, the pulp/wood fiber industry could experience large losses, in turn impacting the rural communities who depend on these industries for their livelihoods.
- Massachusetts and New Jersey supply nearly half the nation’s cranberry crop. By the middle of this century, these areas may not be able to support cranberry production due to lack of winter chilling.
- The warming of the Gulf of Maine threatens a three-state industry valued at more than $1 billion in 2012, a year in which fishermen caught more than 550 million pounds, NOAA statistics say.
Impacts to Human Health and Wellbeing
- Against the backdrop of the widespread climatic warming trend, the urban heat island phenomenon poses further risks for people who, by living in cities, may experience even hotter temperatures. Of 60 cities analyzed in the U.S., Baltimore has the third fastest growing heat island effect with a 0.66°F increase per decade; Washington DC has the sixth most intense urban heat island effect, with a 4.7°F temperature difference between its urban and rural temperature stations; and Philadelphia has the eighth fastest growing overnight urban heat island effect with a 0.64°F increase per decade.
- Summertime heat in U.S. cities can lead to increased ground-level ozone concentrations. Increased ground-level ozone due to warming is projected to increase emergency department visits for ozone-related asthma in children (0 to 17 years of age) by 7.3% by the 2020s relative to a 1990 baseline of approximately 650 visits in the New York metropolitan area.
- The number of days in the ragweed pollen season has increased as ragweed’s range has moved north.
- The deer population that serves as a host for deer ticks carrying Lyme disease has increased likely due to milder temperatures.
- Suitable habitat for the Asian Tiger Mosquito, which can transmit West Nile and other vector-borne diseases, is expected to increase in the Northeast from the current 5% to 16% in the next two decades and from 43% to 49% by the end of the century, exposing more than 30 million people to the threat of dense infestations by this species.
- From January to September of 2012, the Northeast experienced more record high temperatures than record low temperatures. Maryland experienced 41 times more record high temperatures than record low temperatures; Connecticut experienced 35 times more record highs than record lows; and Maine experienced 28 times more record highs than record lows.
- In March 2012 (the warmest March recorded in the U.S.) Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont each had their warmest March on record.
- Fueled by extreme heat, the derecho event in late June of 2012 slammed 700 miles of the U.S. with violent winds that left 22 dead and millions without power. Washington D.C., one of the areas most affected by the derecho, set a June record high temperature during that time.
- In 2011, eight states in the Northeast had September temperatures among their ten hottest on record: Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
Extreme Precipitation and Storms
Right Here, Right Now
- 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).
- Between 1895 and 2011, precipitation increased by approximately five inches, or more than 10% (0.4 inches per decade).
- A range of model projections for the end of this century under a higher emissions scenario, averaged over the region, suggests about 5% to 20% (25th to 75th percentile of model projections) increases in winter precipitation.
- With continued growth in global emissions, two studies found a significant increase in seasonal air temperature, leading to a significant increase in winter precipitation, and a decrease in summer precipitation across the Northeast by mid-century relative to the end of the twentieth century.
- Excess precipitation, both in the form of short bursts or through increased amounts over longer episodes, can be just as damaging for agriculture as too little precipitation, leading to increased erosion and decreased soil quality.Corn is susceptible to excess water in the early growth stages, which can result in reduced growth or even plant death.
- Increased humidity and frequency of heavy rainfall events projected for the Northeast will tend to favor some leaf and root pathogens affecting crops, while also reducing the efficacy of fungicides, requiring more frequent applications.
- Federal taxpayers are supporting the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is already at least $24 billion dollars in debt. This number is likely to rise to nearly $30 billion once all Hurricane Sandy claims are settled. State taxpayers must also share in the costs of supporting state-run flood insurance plans.
- According to Munich Re, Hurricane Sandy was the worst storm to hit the Northeast since the Great New England Hurricane of 1938; some estimates put economic losses and damages at $65 billion.
- Damages due to Hurricane Sandy were concentrated in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, and were estimated at $60 to $80 billion. It is also estimated that 650,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, and that 8.5 million people were without power.
Impacts to Human Health and Wellbeing
- Extreme rainfall events can lower farmers’ yields by damaging crops and infrastructure. Extreme events can also delay spring planting, lowering profits for farmers paying a premium for early season production of high-value crops such as melon, sweet corn, and tomatoes.
- Hurricane Sandy was responsible for 147 deaths, 72 of which occurred in the Northeast.
- During Hurricane Irene in 2011, government officials ordered evacuations totaling 370 thousand in New York City, 100 thousand in Delaware, 315 thousand in Maryland and one million in New Jersey.
- In August 2014, a potent storm system passed through the Northeast bringing historic floods and record rainfall. Baltimore experienced devastating floods and its second-rainiest day since measurements were first taken in 1871, with 6.3 inches of rain reported. Long Island received more rain in one day than it would normally see in an entire summer, with the town of Islip setting a new 24-hour precipitation record at 13.57 inches. Hurricane Irene’s torrential rainfall in 2011 caused record-breaking inland flooding in many of the same states that experienced the heaviest rainfall during this storm. In May 2014, multiple rounds of severe weather also hit the region. Extreme rainfall, in some cases a month’s worth or more in a few hours, caused flash flooding that significantly damaged buildings and shut down roads.
- Due to an unusually wet spring in 2014, only 5% of potatoes had been planted in New York by early May compared to the 5-year average of 42%. In Pennsylvania only 34% of apple trees were in full bloom versus the 5-year average of 91%. By mid-May, the strawberry crop had been delayed 1-3 weeks across the region, causing a shortened berry-picking season.
- During Hurricane Sandy, rainfall records were set in Philadelphia, Atlantic City (more than doubling a 104-year old record), Wilmington, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Rochester and Buffalo. The Wilmington and Atlantic City records were all-time October daily rainfall records.
- The “Great October Snowstorm” of 2011 produced more than 30 inches of heavy, wet snowfall in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, killing at least 22 people.
- 2011 was the wettest year in recorded history for Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
Sea Level Rise
Right Here, Right Now
- 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.
- By 2030, more than half of 52 communities analyzed in a Union of Concerned Scientists report on both the East and Gulf Coasts can expect to average more than two-dozen tidal floods per year. The rise in the frequency of tidal flooding represents an extremely steep increase for many of these communities. In the next 15 years alone, two-thirds of these communities could see a tripling or more in the number of high-tide floods each year.
- Sea level rise along most of the coastal Northeast is expected to exceed the global average rise, projected at 1 to 4 feet by 2100.
- A two feet rise in global sea level by 2100 would result in a relative sea level rise of 2.3 feet at New York City and2.9 feet at Hampton Roads, Virginia.
- 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.
- If we continue on our current path, sea levels in New York City will likely rise by an additional 0.9 to 1.6 feet by mid-century, and between 2.1 to 4.2 feet by the end of the century.
- New Jersey faces even greater risks due to the combination of sea level rise and groundwater withdrawal. On our current path, it is likely that Atlantic City will see 2.4 to 4.5 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century.
- Sea level rise threatens the Northeast’s major cities and industries, many of which are on the water. 88% of the population of this region lives in coastal counties, and 68% of the region’s Gross Domestic Product is generated in those counties.
- Higher sea levels can expand the reach of storm-related flooding and make storms more damaging. On our current path, additional projected sea level rise will likely increase average annual property losses from hurricanes and other coastal storms for the region by $6 to $9 billion by 2100.
Impacts to Human Health and Wellbeing
- In the Mid-Atlantic part of the Northeast region alone, estimates suggest that between 450,000 and 2.3 million people are at risk from a three foot sea level rise, which is in the range of projections for this century.
- As sea levels rise, the Chesapeake Bay region is expected to experience an increase in coastal flooding and drowning of estuarine wetlands. The Chesapeake Bay is the largest U.S. estuary, with a drainage basin that extends over six states. It provides sources of food for people and the region’s other inhabitants, and cooling water for the energy sector.
- During Hurricane Sandy, nearly 14 feet of storm surge flooded all three New York City-area airports and much of Manhattan’s subway system.
- Hurricane Irene produced a storm surge that ranged between 3.3 to 4.5 feet along the eastern Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey coasts with the highest reported storm surge (4.7 feet) reported at Sandy Hook, NJ.