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Southeast Climate Change

Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina

Information from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, June, 2009

Heat, Stronger Hurricanes and Drought

The Southeast climate region includes: Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia. The average annual temperature of this region has risen 2 Fahrenheit since 1970, with the strongest temperature increase occurring in the winter months.

Seasonal precipitation is changing dramatically in this region. Fall precipitation over most of the region is up about 30 percent with only a small decrease in South Florida. Summer precipitation has decreased in most areas and during the past three decades there have been several severe droughts. Across the region the amount of precipitation that falls in the form of a heavy downpour is up.

The increase in average temperature is expected to continue with the greatest increases occurring in summer. The magnitude of rise is expected to be between 4.5 and 9 Fahrenheit. The frequency of very hot days is expected to increase.

Sea level has been rising over the past few decades and this trend is expected to accelerate. The result will be shoreline retreat and inundation of inland areas. Rising sea temperatures are expected to increase the frequency and strength of hurricanes. Stronger storms with higher wind speeds, more intense rainfall and more powerful surges are expected to cause a lot more damage.

Hurricane Intensity & Storm Surge Get Worse
Hurricanes intensify
Sea-level rise and the likely increase in hurricane intensity and associated storm surge will be among the most serious consequences of climate change. Low-lying areas, including some communities, will be inundated more frequently - some permanently - by the advancing sea. Current buildings and infrastructure were not designed to withstand the intensity of the projected storm surge, which would cause catastrophic damage. If sea-level rise increases at an accelerated rate (dependent upon ice sheet response to warming) a large portion of the Southeast coastal zone could be threatened.

Insurance For At-Risk Properties Harder To Get
Hurricane damaged house
Quality of life will be affected by increasing heat stress, water scarcity, severe weather events, and reduced availability of insurance for at-risk properties. The Southeast "sunbelt" has attracted people, industry, and investment. The population of Florida has increased by 100 percent during the past three decades and growth rates in most other southeastern states were between 45 and 75 percent. The challenges associated with climate change will affect the quality of life for these residents and affect future population growth. Photo copyright by iStockPhoto / T. Bryngelson.

Lack of Water Availability Causes Conflict
Low lake from drought
Decreased water availability is very likely to affect the region's economy as well as its natural systems. Increasing temperatures and longer periods between rainfall events coupled with increased demand for water will result in decreased water availability. The 2007 water shortage in the Atlanta area created serious conflicts between three states, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (which operates the dam at Lake Lanier), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is charged with protecting endangered species. Such competition for limited water supplies is expected to continue. Photo copyright by iStockPhoto / K. Legg.

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Map of the Southeast US
Climate change will have a number of severe impacts on the southeastern states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. This page illustrates a number of the more significant impacts. Map by and MapResources..

Temperature Stresses People, Plants & Animals
Corn damaged by drought
Projected increases in air and water temperatures will cause heat-related stresses for people, plants, and animals. Effects of increased heat include more heat-related illness; declines in forest growth and agricultural crop production due to the combined effects of heat stress and declining soil moisture; declines in cattle production; increased buckling of pavement and railways; and reduced oxygen levels in streams and lakes, leading to fish kills and declines in aquatic species diversity. Photo copyright by iStockPhoto / L. Jackson.

Storm Surge Barriers May Be Destroyed
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In 2005, 217 square miles of land and wetlands were lost to open water during hurricanes Rita and Katrina. The photos and maps show the Chandeleur Islands, east of New Orleans, before and after the 2005 hurricanes; 85 percent of the islands' above-water land mass was eliminated.

Ecological thresholds are likely to be crossed throughout the region, causing major disruptions to ecosystems and to the benefits they provide to people. Ecosystems provide numerous important services that have high economic and cultural value in the Southeast. Climate change may result in abrupt changes to these ecosystems, such as hurricane-induced sudden loss of landforms that serve as storm surge barriers and homes for coastal communities.

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