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Heavy rainfall events in the Northeast are set to increase by over 50 percent

As the world heats up, climatic changes are becoming more noticeable. A new study out of Dartmouth suggests that the Northeast United States, a region known for its varied seasons and unique weather patterns, is set to experience more extreme weather conditions such as heavy rainfall due to rising temperatures. 

The study, published in Climatic Change, predicts an increase in heavy rainfall events by as much as 52 percent by the end of this century. These extreme precipitation events are characterized as days with 1.5 or more inches of heavy rainfall or melted snow.

According to study first author Christopher J. Picard, the logic behind the forecast is pretty simple: as climate change ramps up the heat, more water vapor saturates the atmosphere. This elevated moisture sets the stage for an uptick in extreme precipitation.

Broader focus of the study

The focus of the study is not just on the increased volume of precipitation. “Our findings show that this increase in extreme precipitation will be primarily driven by more frequent heavy rainfall events, not by the intensity of such events,” explained Picard. The expectation is not that each storm will be more powerful, but rather, that there will simply be more days of heavy rainfall.

Looking deeper into the seasons, the study notes that winter and spring are expected to bear the brunt of this change, contributing significantly to the predicted 52 percent surge in extreme precipitation by 2070 to 2099. These seasons may see increases in extreme precipitation of 109  and 89 percent, respectively.

Jonathan Winter, the senior author of the study and an associate professor of Geography at Dartmouth, has a history of examining heavy rainfall trends in the Northeast. His earlier work, which looked at data from 1901 to 2014, found a 50 percent increase in extreme precipitation events from 1996 to 2014. 

According to Professor Winter, this sharp uptick in extreme weather events has clear ties to climate change. “Building on our earlier work, we were particularly interested in determining how much extreme precipitation is expected to change across the Northeast in the future.”

Where the study was focused

The study specifically focused on thirteen Northeast states and Washington, D.C. When breaking down the regional impact, the researchers predict that extreme precipitation increases will be most noticeable in West Virginia, certain parts of Pennsylvania, central New York, and northeastern Maine. The areas expected to see comparatively less of an increase are those along the Atlantic coast and south of Lake Ontario.

To conduct the study, the team employed a regional climate model from the National Center for Atmospheric Research. This model helped simulate precipitation for two periods: a historical one from 1976 to 2005 and a projected one from 2070 to 2099. 

The experts cross-referenced their results with simulations from other regional climate models and found a high degree of agreement. These models predict increases in heavy rainfall ranging from 58 to 169 percent.

Grave implications of the study’s results

The implications of this anticipated upsurge in extreme weather events are grave. “Extreme precipitation events can pose threats to life, property, infrastructure, and the environment,” warns Winter. 

Prior studies have revealed the destructive effects of such occurrences. They can lead to flooding, landslides, and erosion, which in turn can wipe out roads, instigate agricultural runoff of pollutants, and damage recreational areas. 

“So, understanding where the flood plain is actually located, having the right sized culverts or green infrastructure in place, and properly designing roads and bridges, are important to managing the extra water that we’re likely to encounter in the future,” said Winter. 

The research shines a spotlight on the unfolding realities of climate change and their likely impact on our daily lives. As we move toward the end of the century, more frequent days of heavy rainfall will likely become a commonplace event in the Northeast, a direct consequence of the rising global temperatures.

Prepare for a future filled with extreme weather

As Picard, Winter and colleagues demonstrate, a future with more extreme weather events isn’t just a possibility – it’s a likelihood. While this research gives us a glimpse of what lies ahead, it also underscores the need for greater resilience and adaptation in the face of climate change. 

This means understanding where flood plains are actually located, investing in appropriately-sized infrastructure, and designing roads and bridges with these changing conditions in mind.

As we continue to observe the effects of climate change, studies like this one from Dartmouth are invaluable in shaping our understanding and response to these global changes. With this research, we gain more insight into the climate of the future – allowing us to better prepare and adapt to a world where the weather promises to be far more unpredictable than we’ve ever known.

How climate change impacts extreme weather events

Climate change is transforming our planet in profound and wide-ranging ways, influencing the frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme weather events. These changes are due to the warming effect of increased greenhouse gas emissions, primarily carbon dioxide and methane, trapping more heat in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Here’s a breakdown of some ways climate change influences extreme weather:


As global temperatures rise, heatwaves have become more frequent and intense. These prolonged periods of excessively hot weather can lead to droughts, wildfires, and significant impacts on human health and agriculture.

Heavy Rainfall and Flooding

Climate change intensifies the water cycle. Warmer air can hold more moisture, which can result in more intense rainfall, leading to an increased risk of flooding. This was precisely the conclusion of the Dartmouth study we previously discussed.


While some areas experience increased rainfall, others undergo prolonged periods of dryness. Changes in weather patterns and decreased rainfall can lead to severe droughts. These droughts can harm agriculture, deplete water sources, and create conditions ideal for wildfires.

Hurricanes and Tropical Storms

As the ocean’s surface temperature rises, hurricanes and tropical storms can become more intense. Warm water fuels these storms, so higher temperatures can lead to storms with stronger winds and heavier rainfall.


Increased temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns can make forests drier and more susceptible to wildfires. When combined with extended periods of drought, the risk of wildfires significantly increases.

Snowstorms and Cold Waves

Although climate change generally leads to warmer temperatures, it can also cause extreme cold events. This happens because warming in the Arctic can disrupt the polar vortex, a large area of cold air and low pressure at the North Pole, causing frigid air to spill into lower latitudes.

Sea-Level Rise

While not a weather event, the melting of polar ice caps due to rising global temperatures results in a rise in sea levels. This increases the risk of coastal flooding, particularly during storms.

It’s important to understand that climate change doesn’t create extreme weather events out of thin air, but instead, it modifies existing weather patterns, making them more severe, more frequent, or both. 

These shifts in weather patterns can have profound effects on ecosystems, agriculture, infrastructure, and human life, making it critical for us to understand and mitigate the impact of climate change.


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