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Island Press today published a report detailing the most comprehensive look to date at the effects of climate change on the Southeastern U.S.

The report, “Climate of the Southeast United States: Variability, Change, Impacts and Vulnerability,” was unveiled by the principal authors and editors who represent states across the region. On a conference call with reporters, they outlined the projected effects of climate change for the region’s water supply, agricultural sector, winter and summer temperatures, human health and extreme weather.

The report’s core finding is that climate variability is already affecting the Southeastern U.S., and a changing climate is projected to increasingly affect the region in the next 20 years and beyond.

Specific findings include:

  • Average annual temperatures are projected to increase through the 21st century, with the interior of the region projected to warm by as much as 9°F;
  • Cold days are projected to become less frequent and the freeze-free season is projected to lengthen by up to a month;
  • Temperatures exceeding 95°F are expected to increase across the SE and heat waves are expected to increase by between 97% and 234% through the end of the century;
  • Water supply stress is projected to increase significantly over next three and a half decades, with annual precipitation projected to decrease by as much as 12% across Louisiana and Arkansas by the end of the century;
  • Average sea level rise across the Southeast coast is expected to reach between 1 and five feet by the end of the 21st century;
  • High temperature stresses in summer and winter are projected to become more frequent and damaging to crops and drive dairy and livestock production north;
  • Air quality is projected to decline and pollen counts will go up; and
  • There are efforts already underway to mitigate and adapt to climate change, but much more needs to be done, including protecting our forests and wetlands, improving energy efficiency and expanding the use of clean energy.

The report reviewed data from Kentucky, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The report represented the culmination of years of work by over 100 contributing peer-reviewed experts as part of the federal National Climate Assessment process. Copies of the report are available upon request.

Participating in the news conference were:

  • Keith Ingram, Director, Southeast Climate Consortium, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, University of Florida.
  • Kirstin Dow, Professor, Department of Geography, University of South Carolina Lead-PI Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments.
  • Chip Konrad, Director of the Southeast Regional Climate Center and Associate Professor of Geography in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Lynne Carter, Associate Director and Program Manager, Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program, a NOAA/RISA team at Louisiana State University.

Quotes from Chip Konrad (Heat Waves & Human Health):

“The report makes clear that climate change is projected to mean more hot days, longer heat waves and shorter winters in the Southeast, which has had cool and warm periods since the late 19th century. However, since the 1970’s temperatures have steadily increased, with the most recent decade (2001 to 2010) noted as the warmest on record.”

“Average annual temperatures are projected to increase across most of the Southeast through the 21st century, and the interior of the region is projected to warm by as much as 9°F.”

“Cold days are projected to get less frequent and the freeze-free season is projected to lengthen by up to a month. Daily minimum temperatures below 10°F are expected to decrease in frequency by as much as 10 days per year by the mid-21st century. The length of the freeze-free season is projected to increase by as much as 30 days in the mid-21st century.”

“Maximum temperatures exceeding 95°F are expected to increase across the Southeast, with the greatest increases (35 additional days annually) found across the southern half
of Florida by the mid-21st century. The number of consecutive days exceeding 95°F, a metric used as a measure of heat waves, is expected to increase by between 97% and 234% through the end of the century.”

“The report says climate change is projected to exacerbate air quality problems and damage human health. Atmospheric conditions that promote poor air quality — such as increased temperatures, reduced precipitation, increased air stagnation, and decreased atmospheric ventilation — are expected to become more frequent across the southern US by the mid-21st century.”

“Climate change may also be causing the earlier onset of the spring pollen season. The report finds it is reasonable to expect that allergies and other respiratory illnesses related to airborne pollens will continue to increase.”

Report methodology:

The report is based on a technical report to the National Climate Assessment, a Congressionally-mandated analysis and the most comprehensive nationwide look at the effects of climate change.

The report brings together a range of existing research and was produced through collaboration among three NOAA-funded Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments Centers (RISAs) – the Southeast Climate Consortium, the Carolinas Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments and the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program, along with contributions from numerous local, state, federal, and non-governmental individuals and agencies.

ABOUT CLIMATE NEXUS

Climate Nexus is a strategic communications group dedicated to highlighting the wide-ranging impacts of climate change and clean energy solutions in the United States. www.climatenexus.org

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