Climate Change Worsens Extreme Weather in New England 

Clean energy can help us slash the carbon pollution driving heat waves, storms, and floods

An aerial view of Waterbury, Vermont's flooding during the intense rainstorm of Summer 2023. Houses are submerged up to their doorsteps.

More intense rainfall that leads to devastating flooding, like in Vermont during the summer of 2023, is just one of climate change's impacts on the frequency and severity of extreme weather. Photo: Vince Franke.

As we enter New England’s fall, I’m reflecting on how hot this summer was. And not the soothing caress of the sun’s rays on our winter-weary skin type of hot. I’m talking blistering, boiling, grilled-alive-the-minute-I-step-out-of-my-apartment type of hot. 

That’s because New England’s summers are getting warmer, just like we’re seeing across the planet. As we suffer these searing summer temperatures, storms are hitting New England communities with more severity and intensity. That’s in addition to Canada’s wildfires – which forced us all indoors to avoid dangerous air quality from smoke traveling down to us and darkening our skies.  

What’s at the root of this increasingly extreme weather? Climate change. And how can we slow the crisis? Clean energy. Let’s look at how. 

Climate Change Worsens Extreme Weather 

Burning fossil fuels like gas, oil, and coal releases carbon into the atmosphere. These emissions wrap around our planet like a blanket and trap heat. The more we emit, the thicker the blanket and the hotter our planet gets. To make matters worse, New England is warming faster than the rest of the world.

This heat-trapping blanket affects the frequency and severity of extreme weather. Here’s how.

  1. Extreme Heat: Climate-damaging emissions trapping heat in the atmosphere increases global temperatures, leading to earlier and hotter summers year after year. 
  2. Stronger Storms: Global temperature increase also warms the ocean, causing water to evaporate faster. This new water vapor adds fuel to tropical storms and hurricanes. Yale University predicts that the northeastern U.S. will experience more hurricanes because of climate change. Yale’s prediction seems even more tangible given the unprecedented tornado warnings (and actual tornadoes) that swept across Massachusetts and Rhode Island this summer. 
  3. More Flooding: Alongside our ocean warming is our air – which only accelerates water evaporation. When moisture-heavy air then meets a storm system, it can produce more intense rain, leading to increasingly frequent flooding. We saw this in Vermont this summer with devastating flooding that broke the state’s rainfall records – rainfall more severe than Tropical Storm Irene. And, given the effects of sea level rise bringing waters up to dangerous levels, a previously simple storm could now submerge coastal neighborhoods. 
  4. Milder Winters: Warmer global temperatures mean losing the classic New England winter filled with snow. Every year, our winters are shorter and warmer – hurting the region’s industries that depend on the season.  
  5. Erratic swings and spikes: While there’s a trend of overall warming, climate change also causes erratic temperature and storm spikes. For example, even though our winters are milder and shorter, we still experience sudden bouts of cold snaps and intense flurries. That’s because a warmer than normal winter means more water evaporation. And as we know, more water vapor means more storms.  

Clean Energy Can Help Slow Climate Change 

Fossil fuels are at the root of the climate crisis. To avert climate catastrophe, we have a responsibility to move away from gas, oil, and coal – and do so in a way that accounts for the many ways that pollution and other environmental threats have been dumped deliberately on communities of color and low-income communities. Importantly, we can’t burn our way out of climate change. Which means replacing fossil fuels in our daily lives with alternatives like so-called “renewable” natural gas or biofuels isn’t the answer. The solution is transitioning to clean energy, like solar and wind, as urgently as possible. 

New England can show the rest of the country and the world how this energy transition can be done. The region has already taken major steps to fight climate change, like the fact that every state except New Hampshire has passed laws mandating cuts to carbon pollution. To meet these targets, the region must bring more clean energy online to power our lives in lieu of fossil fuels. And our governments must help all New Englanders electrify as much of our homes and businesses as possible: from our cars to our heating systems to everyday kitchen appliances. 

We Must Also Get Smart about Energy Efficiency 

Energy efficiency is the process of using less energy, like switching to efficient appliances or weatherizing buildings so they better keep in warmth or cold. Efficiency reduces the overall demand for electricity – even as we move to electric heat and electric cars.  

This climate solution is especially important given how much energy demand spikes during the hottest days of the summer or coldest days of the winter, when everyone blasts their air conditioners or turns up their heat. On such days, our electricity grid must turn to backup power plants to generate extra electricity – and these power plants rely on the dirtiest, most climate-damaging fuels. So, as we transition to clean energy, we must also prioritize energy efficiency to slash the amount of climate-warming emissions we release. 

Let’s Put These Solutions into Action 

Climate change isn’t something you or I caused. Rather, it’s a crisis produced by large corporations who have avoided the consequences of their polluting practices for far too long. That’s why fighting climate change requires collective action: all of us coming together to demand cuts to carbon pollution. This need for collective action is why CLF has pushed for climate laws and policies in every New England state – so that there are mandatory measures that our governments must meet. Now that almost every state in the region has these laws and policies in the books, we need to hold our governments accountable to implement them.  

The individual actions you can take to make the most difference are using your voice to inspire others to act, demanding change from our governments, and holding polluters accountable. CLF needs your help. Your voice is critical to convincing decision-makers to act and do so now. To join our climate fight, sign up for CLF e-news and be the first to know when you can speak up for New England’s health and safety. We have the chance to slow the crisis fueling more extreme weather through clean energy solutions, but we can’t delay doing so any longer. 

Before you go... CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.