Climate Change Impacts Northeast

Updated: Mar 29, 2020

Ellicott City, Maryland

On the afternoon of May 27, 2018, after receiving over 8 inches of rain in the span of two hours, historic Main Street in Ellicott City, Maryland flooded again days before the new flood emergency alert system was to become operational.

A recently published national assessment on climate change takes a look at impacts for regions across the country. The summary below shows the Northeast will face several challenges in both urban and rural areas.

The Northeast

The Northeast region is characterized by four distinct seasons and a diverse landscape that is central to the region’s cultural identity, quality of life, and economic success. It is both the most heavily forested and most densely populated region in the country. Residents have ready access to beaches, forests, and other natural areas and use them heavily for recreation. Colorful autumn foliage, winter recreation, and summer vacations in the mountains or at the beach are all important parts of the Northeast’s cultural identity, and this tourism contributes billions of dollars to the regional economy.

The seasonal climate, natural systems, and accessibility of certain types of recreation are threatened by declining snow and ice, rising sea levels, and rising temperatures. By 2035, and under both lower and higher scenarios (RCP4.5 and RCP8.5), the Northeast is projected to be more than 3.6°F (2°C) warmer on average than during the preindustrial era. This would be the largest increase in the contiguous United States and would occur as much as two decades before global average temperatures reach a similar milestone.

The region’s oceans and coasts support a rich maritime heritage and provide an iconic landscape, as well as economic and ecological services. Highly productive marshes, fisheries, ecosystems, and coastal infrastructure are sensitive to changing environmental conditions, including shifts in temperature, ocean acidification, sea level, storm surge, flooding, and erosion.

Many of these changes are already affecting coastal and marine ecosystems, posing increasing risks to people, traditions, infrastructure, and economies. These risks are exacerbated by increasing demands on these ecosystems to support human use and development. The Northeast has experienced some of the highest rates of sea level rise and ocean warming in the United States, and these exceptional increases relative to other regions are projected to continue through the end of the century.