Climate change in the Northeast and Midwest United States

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The climate is changing rapidly in ways that have already impacted wildlife and their habitats. Here, we present a summary of the observed past and projected future climate changes in the region that are relevant to wildlife and ecosystems, as well as what we know and don’t know in order to raise managers’ confidence in their planning. A number of large-scale regional changes affect the overall terrestrial landscape within the Northeast and Midwest United States:

  • Warming is occurring in every season, particularly in winter, at higher latitudes, at higher elevations, and inland (i.e. away from the ocean and lake coasts).
  • Heatwaves may become more frequent, more intense, and last longer.
  • Precipitation amounts are increasing, particularly in winter and with respect to highintensity events in summer.
  • Snow is shifting to rain, leading to reduced snowpacks and extent of snow cover, as well as harder, crustier snowpacks.
  • Atmospheric moisture content is likely to increase.
  • Wind speeds are declining, though wind gusts may be intensifying.
  • Streamflows are intensifying.
  • Streams are warming.
  • Thunderstorms may become more severe.
  • Floods are intensifying, yet droughts are also on the rise as dry periods between events get longer.
  • Blizzards and ice storms are occurring more often in some areas, though most areas experiencing milder winters (i.e., warmer and with less snow).
  • Growing seasons are getting longer, with more growing degree days accumulating earlier in the season.

In addition, localized climate change is occurring in specific regions:

  • U.S. Atlantic coast
    • Sea level is rising at an accelerating rate.
    • Tropical cyclones and hurricanes may be intensifying and storm tracks have been shifting northward along the coast.
    • Oceans are warming and becoming more acidic.
  • Great Lakes
    • The lakes are warming.
    • Winter maximum lake ice extent is shrinking.
    • Lake evaporation rates are increasing.
    • Lake-effect snow events are becoming more severe, longer lasting, and shifting to rain, but occurring less often.
    • Water levels have decreased, but may not be linked to anthropogenic climate change.
  • Appalachians
    • Warming may be occurring more rapidly at higher elevations.
    • Greater intensification of heavy rainfall events may be occurring.

In the short term (i.e., over the next 5-20 years), the direction and magnitude of warming in the global climate are mostly consistent across all emissions scenarios and with strong agreement across models. Accordingly, we are certain that the Northeast and Midwest will see longer growing seasons. We are likely to see shifts from snow to rain, though shifts in the amount of total precipitation (rain and snow) are less certain. Severe weather events (e.g., thunderstorms, tornadoes) are challenging to detect. Soil moisture and evapotranspiration trends are neither robustly observed nor consistent amongst modeling studies.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Title Climate change in the Northeast and Midwest United States
Chapter 1
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Northeast Climate Science Center
Contributing office(s) Northeast Climate Science Center
Description 51 p.
Larger Work Type Report
Larger Work Subtype Other Government Series
Larger Work Title Integrating climate change into northeast and midwest State Wildlife Action Plans
First page 6
Last page 57
Country United States
State Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Wisconsin, West Virginia
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