The distinct seasonality of the Northeast’s climate supports a diverse natural landscape adapted to the extremes of cold, snowy winters and warm to hot, humid summers. This natural landscape provides the economic and cultural foundation for many rural communities, which are largely supported by a diverse range of agricultural, tourism, and natural resource-dependent industries. The recent dominant trend in precipitation throughout the Northeast has been towards increases in rainfall intensity, with increases in intensity exceeding those in other regions of the contiguous United States. Further increases in rainfall intensity are expected, with increases in total precipitation expected during the winter and spring but with little change in the summer. Monthly precipitation in the Northeast is projected to be about 1 inch greater for December through April by end of century (2070–2100) under the higher scenario.
Ocean and coastal ecosystems are being affected by large changes in a variety of climate-related environmental conditions. These ecosystems support fishing and aquaculture, tourism and recreation, and coastal communities. Observed and projected increases in temperature, acidification, storm frequency and intensity, and sea levels are of particular concern for coastal and ocean ecosystems, as well as local communities and their interconnected social and economic systems. Increasing temperatures and changing seasonality on the Northeast Continental Shelf have affected marine organisms and the ecosystem in various ways. The warming trend experienced in the Northeast Continental Shelf has been associated with many fish and invertebrate species moving northward and to greater depths. Because of the diversity of the Northeast’s coastal landscape, the impacts from storms and sea level rise will vary at different locations along the coast.
Northeastern cities, with their abundance of concrete and asphalt and relative lack of vegetation, tend to have higher temperatures than surrounding regions due to the urban heat island effect. During extreme heat events, nighttime temperatures in the region’s big cities are generally several degrees higher than surrounding regions, leading to higher risk of heat-related death. Urban areas are at risk for large numbers of evacuated and displaced populations and damaged infrastructure due to both extreme precipitation events and recurrent flooding, potentially requiring significant emergency response efforts and consideration of a long-term commitment to rebuilding and adaptation, and/or support for relocation where needed. Much of the infrastructure in the Northeast, including drainage and sewer systems, flood and storm protection assets, transportation systems, and power supply, is nearing the end of its planned life expectancy. Climate-related disruptions will only exacerbate existing issues with aging infrastructure. Sea level rise has amplified storm impacts in the Northeast, contributing to higher surges that extend farther inland, as demonstrated in New York City in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Service and resource supply infrastructure in the Northeast is at increasing risk of disruption, resulting in lower quality of life, economic declines, and increased social inequality. Loss of public services affects the capacity of communities to function as administrative and economic centers and triggers disruptions of interconnected supply chains.
Northeast: Key Messages
- Seasons Impact Rural Areas
The seasonality of the Northeast is central to the region’s sense of place and is an important driver of rural economies. Less distinct seasons with milder winter and earlier spring conditions are already altering ecosystems and environments in ways that adversely impact tourism, farming, and forestry. The region’s rural industries and livelihoods are at risk from further changes to forests, wildlife, snowpack, and streamflow.
- Oceans & Coasts
The Northeast’s coast and ocean support commerce, tourism, and recreation that are important to the region’s economy and way of life. Warmer ocean temperatures, sea level rise, and ocean acidification threaten these services. The adaptive capacity of marine ecosystems and coastal communities will influence ecological and socioeconomic outcomes as climate risks increase.
- Urban Interconnectedness
The Northeast’s urban centers and their interconnections are regional and national hubs for cultural and economic activity. Major negative impacts on critical infrastructure, urban economies, and nationally significant historic sites are already occurring and will become more common with a changing climate.
- Threats to Human Health
Changing climate threatens the health and well-being of people in the Northeast through more extreme weather, warmer temperatures, degradation of air and water quality, and sea level rise. These environmental changes are expected to lead to health-related impacts and costs, including additional deaths, emergency room visits and hospitalizations, and a lower quality of life. Health impacts are expected to vary by location, age, current health, and other characteristics of individuals and communities.
- Adaptation Efforts
Communities in the Northeast are proactively planning and implementing actions to reduce risks posed by climate change. Using decision support tools to develop and apply adaptation strategies informs both the value of adopting solutions and the remaining challenges. Experience since the last assessment provides a foundation to advance future adaptation efforts.
The “Northeast” publication is available as a downloadable PDF at nca2018.globalchange.gov.