PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island has gotten warmer, wetter and more prone to extreme weather events and tidal flooding. Lowering greenhouse gas emissions will help, but the climate change trends are expected to continue for the decades to come.
Those are the main takeaways from a report published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration earlier this month.
These historical records and future scenarios, captured in a five-page summary for Rhode Island, aren’t themselves new; they’re spread out among a number of different publications and datasets. But for the second time in the last five years, they’re being collected and published on a state-by-state level to give people a more immediate view of the local effects of global climate change.
It’s one thing to hear of the effects on vast global systems. It’s another to know that since 1930, sea level has risen more than 9 inches in Newport, which is faster than the global average, and that by the end of the century, Providence could have tidal flooding causing nuisances on a near-daily basis.
“It helps bring the message home to people — this is what’s happening near you, in your state,” said David Easterling, a NOAA climate scientist who helped put together the reports, called the State Climate Summaries.
Here are a couple other takeaways from Rhode Island’s climate summary:
Take the average of temperatures in Rhode Island between 1901 and 1960. Rhode Island’s temperatures haven’t been lower than that average since the middle of the 1970s. The number of hot days has been above average since the 1990s, and the number of very cold nights is generally below average since the mid-1980s, with the most recent six-year period about average.
And it corresponds — with some variation year-to-year — with global levels in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, Easterling said.
“It’s very plain in the observed record,” Easterling said.
That’s expected to continue, although lowering emissions will help moderate the amount, the report says.
The rise, though, has already happened: “Temperatures in Rhode Island have risen by about 4 degrees Fahrenheit since the beginning of the 20th century.”
Rhode Island is the Ocean State, which makes it vulnerable to sea level rise and, relatedly, flooding. But it has one advantage: a rocky coastline. That helps, Easterling said. But tidal flooding events with nuisance-level impacts have already gone up in recent years in the Providence area — about 15 times in a year at its recent peak, compared to only a handful a year, if any, in past decades.
The projections in 2100 dwarf that: In the intermediate-low scenario, the Providence area could have 150 tidal flood days by the end of the century. In the intermediate scenario, it could have 350. That means practically every day would be a flood day.
Rain in the forecast
It’s going to get wetter in Rhode Island: Annual average precipitation is expected to rise in the winters and springs. Rhode Island is also expected to have extreme precipitation events more regularly, even as droughts intensify because of increases in temperature.
Extreme precipitation has already increased since 1950, with the highest level between 2005 and 2014, the report said. In 2010, major rainfall from a late-March nor’easter caused the worst flooding in the state’s history. But then it experienced severe drought in 2016 and extreme drought in 2020, the report notes.
The five-page summary of Rhode Island’s report can be found online.