fb-pixelClimate change promises to bring more precipitation to the Northeast Skip to main content

Parts of the Northeast are underwater. Experts say expect more of that as the climate warms.

Jack Sullivan traveled by kayak on a flooded Pearl Street in Hampton, N.H. The overnight storm flooded Ocean Boulevard and brought strong winds.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

In Boston on Wednesday, the Harborwalk was submerged. In Rhode Island, the Pawtuxet River at Cranston was at “potentially life threatening” levels. The story was the same in parts of Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine, as communities on the coast or near inland rivers were inundated with extreme rains right on the heels of a major snow storm.

Climate experts say, get used to it.

Winters in the northeastern United States could see a doubling of the number of extremely rainy and snowy storms by the end of the century, according to a study published in June in the journal Climatic Change.

Advertisement



The study looked at the relationship between extreme precipitation and carbon emissions, finding that if worldwide fossil fuel use continues to rise through the end of the century, the region can expect an average of 52 percent more extreme precipitation, compared with the period 1976 through 2005.

That increase is expected to be particularly acute in winter, the researchers found.

“As climate change brings warmer temperatures, you have more water vapor in the atmosphere, which creates the right conditions for extreme precipitation,” said Christopher Picard, an undergraduate researcher in the Hydroclimatology Group at Dartmouth and first author of the study.

The study’s findings were based on a worst-case scenario in which the world does not respond to the climate crisis and continues on its path of increasing reliance on fossil fuels. Researchers not involved in the study said that scenario is commonly used for these types of assessments because academics and policymakers need to examine the most dire risks.

The good news is, when they looked at what might happen under what is considered a moderate scenario with emissions peaking around 2040, instead of a 109 percent increase in winter extreme precipitation, there would be a 22.7 percent increase.

Advertisement



Either way, it’s a lot. And just 10 days into this year — on the heels of an extremely warm and soggy 2023 — it feels like the Northeast is getting a glimpse into that climate future.

As the region bails out from the latest storm and assesses the damage, a warning from the National Weather Service: Another storm set to arrive Friday night into early Saturday is forecast to deliver two to three inches of rain.


Sabrina Shankman can be reached at sabrina.shankman@globe.com. Follow her @shankman.