Maine is one of the fastest-warming states in the country, affecting vital fisheries including Maine lobster. (CJ Gunther/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

A detailed analysis of 124 years of climate data across the United States shows that the Northeast is one of the fastest-warming regions in the country, with parts of the region exceeding the 2-degree Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) warming threshold defined by global policymakers as constituting “dangerous” levels of climate change.

World leaders committed in 2015 to limiting global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius of warming compared with preindustrial levels. The new Washington Post analysis, which uses National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data, shows that many locations in the country have already slipped past that threshold. This is not entirely unexpected, since land areas warm faster than the oceans, and the globe has yet to breach the 2-degree mark, but these hot spots effectively serve as previews of what is to come for billions worldwide as human-caused global warming accelerates.

The story, published Tuesday, is part of an ambitious new series on warming hot spots.


Northeast warming since 1895 based on NOAA data. (Washington Post)

Daniel Pauly, a marine scientist at the University of British Columbia, told The Washington Post that the 2-degree Celsius hot spots are early warning sirens of a climate shift.

“Basically,” he said, “these hot spots are chunks of the future in the present.”

In New England, warming is causing changes in the fishing industry, as warm water species move north.

The Northeast’s average annual temperatures have increased the fastest during wintertime, in keeping with climate change projections that show cold seasons warming faster than warm seasons. New Jersey’s average temperature has climbed by close to 2 degrees Celsius since 1895, which is double average rate for the Lower 48 states.

As the story shows, this is transforming life across the Garden State, particularly when it comes to winter recreation.


Temperature change from 1895 through 2018 based on NOAA data. (Washington Post)

According to the new analysis, NOAA data shows that every Northeast state except for Pennsylvania has seen at least a 2-degree Celsius temperature increase since the late 19th century. This is resulting in earlier ice snow and ice melt across the region and fears of an endangered tourism industry reliant on winter sports.

“The average New Jersey temperature from December through February now exceeds 0 degrees Celsius, the temperature at which water freezes,” according to The Post. “That threshold, reached over the past three decades, has meant lakes don’t freeze as often, snow melts more quickly, and insects and pests don’t die as they once did in the harsher cold.”

But warming winters do not mean no winters at all, as The Post notes:

“Polar vortex events, in which frigid Arctic air descends into the heart of the country, can still bring biting cold. But the overall trend remains the same and is set to continue. One recent study found that by the time the entire globe crosses 2 degrees Celsius, the Northeast can expect to have risen by about 3 degrees Celsius, with winter temperatures higher still.”

Here are some other top findings from the analysis:

  • 34 million people in the United States live in areas that have already hit the 2-degree Celsius guard rail.
  • Alaska is the fastest-warming state in the country.
  • Partly because of rapidly warming ocean waters that stretch from the Mid-Atlantic to the Gulf of Maine, Rhode Island is the first state in the contiguous United States whose average temperature has risen beyond 2 degrees Celsius.

Stay tuned for more stories in this series from The Post’s climate and environment team.