The warmer, wetter future that climate scientists have been predicting for New England is already here.

The fifth National Climate Assessment – issued by the White House on Tuesday – includes data showing the region is seeing extreme heat on land and at sea, especially in the Gulf of Maine, and more frequent heavy rainstorms than any other region of the country.

The assessment shines a spotlight on the links between extreme weather and inland flooding, said U.S. Forest Service scientist Erin Lane, one of the authors of the Northeast chapter. Data shows the number of days when at least 2 inches of rain fell is up, but the number of 5-inch days more than doubled.

Waves break over the sea wall at Middle Beach in Kennebunk as a car drives along Beach Avenue during high tide in April 2022. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

These storms can have a big impact on local communities and ecosystems, but they can also spur action.

“The stress of extreme weather is motivating climate action,” Lane said on Tuesday. “In our region, we are seeing more adaptation to build resilience, as well as inclusion of nature-based solutions and carbon emission reduction strategies as communities work toward addressing these issues.”

Rising sea levels and heavy rains are leading to floods, driving up insurance rates, and forcing towns to repair or move roads, bridges and ferry landings. Extreme weather can sometimes mean droughts and floods in succession, wreaking havoc with the growing season, spring thaws and mud season.


“Extended spring conditions and more frequent thaw events are causing longer mud seasons,” she said. “This impacts rural communities with unpaved roads and logging operations. Dealing with the increase in variability of soil moisture is an issue for farmers and forestland managers.”

The twice-a-decade National Climate Assessment was produced over four years by 750 scientists from every U.S. state under the umbrella of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. It underwent a peer review by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Despite the warnings of the last four assessments, total greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, resulting in rapid warming. The months of June through October were the hottest such months on the record books, and 2023 is poised to become the hottest year on record.

And the United States is warming about 60 percent faster than the rest of the world, the report showed. Since 1970, the continental U.S. has warmed by 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit compared to a global average of 1.7 degrees. Alaska is heating even faster, up by 4.2 degrees.

As the report was rolled out, President Biden announced more than $6 billion in grants to help promote climate change resiliency across the nation, including grants to shore up an aging electric grid infrastructure, reduce flood risk, support conservation efforts and advance environmental justice.

“This assessment shows us in clear scientific terms that climate change is impacting all regions, all sectors, of the United States, not just some,” Biden said. “It shows that communities across America are taking more actions than ever to reduce climate risk. It warns that more action is still badly needed.”


This is the first national climate assessment to spell out the the role that climate change plays in driving extreme weather events, according to Dave Reidmiller, another author of the Northeast chapter and the director of the Climate Center at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

“Not only have we had more extreme events, which says something right there, but in doing so we have increased our ability to study these extreme events and explain climate change’s role in causing them,” Reidmiller said. “That is a big science advance, and one that really hits home with people.”

Extreme events cost the U.S. almost $150 billion each year, not counting the loss of life or medical bills, according to the report. This year set a record for the number of such billion-dollar disasters. The U.S. now experiences a billion-dollar disaster every three weeks compared to every four months in the 1980s.

Severe Weather

Chris Crawford, of Mount Desert Island, films the raging surf near Otter Point in Acadia National Park as severe weather associated with storm Lee pounds the region on Sept. 16, in Bar Harbor. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

“I’ve seen firsthand what the report has made clear: the devastating toll of climate change,” Biden said. “I’ve walked the streets of Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Florida, Puerto Rico, where historic hurricanes and floods wiped out homes, hospitals, houses of worship, just wiped them right off the map.”

Reidmiller and his GMRI colleague, Lisa Kerr, wrote about the role that rising temperatures and ocean acidification play in driving sea level rise and the turnover of temperature-sensitive marine life, such as lobsters, scallops and copepods, a favorite food of the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

Sub-arctic species once plentiful in the Gulf of Maine, like northern shrimp and cod, have declined due to overfishing and warming waters. Rising sea temperatures mean that even better fishery management is unlikely to allow these species to make a full recovery, the report concluded.


But fishermen could turn their attention to mid-Atlantic, warm-water species migrating north, such as sea bass, squid and blue crabs, the report noted. This will force the New England fishing fleet to adapt, but they may not have a choice – by 2050, both lobster and herring are expected to decline.

The only good news for Maine fishermen in the report is that rising ocean temperatures are driving the copepod that the endangered North Atlantic right whale likes to eat out of the Gulf of Maine, which may help ease the fishing restrictions pending to protect whales from lethal entanglement in fishing lines.

Reidmiller also wrote about the bevy of climate adaptation and mitigation plans developed by states, cities and towns. Five years ago, when the last national climate assessment was issued, the federal view of climate planning was dim, Reidmiller said. It catalyzed sub-federal players to pick up the mantle.

“The silver lining is that now climate action is once again a priority of the federal government,” he said. “The states and cities that have spent the last five years preparing to go it alone stand ready to capitalize on the massive infusion of federal investment.”

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