The National Harbor in Maryland at sunset during the summer.

The 10 fastest-warming states in America, according to data

Written by:
March 28, 2023
jg.romero // Shutterstock

Fastest-warming states since 1970

Just a degree or two degrees hotter doesn't seem like a lot. You would barely notice the change on a sunny afternoon or in the warmth of a cup of coffee. But over time, it's enough to change our environment from top to bottom.

Every state is growing warmer, with higher temperatures fueled by everything from powerful ocean currents and giant coal-fired power plants to commuters, cows, and leaky old buildings.

To determine the fastest-warming states in America, Stacker consulted the climate at a glance tool from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The top ten states are ranked here according to their average warming, with the temperature changes of each state's fastest-warming cities included for context. Ties are broken by the fastest-warming city in each state. Where available, data for the three fastest-warming cities are included; for some states, data for only one or two cities were available. 

The leading cause of rising temperatures today is an increase in human-derived greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide and methane. The more gases we emit by burning fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal, and in our farming practices, the more heat is trapped. Plants and trees mitigate the situation somewhat by absorbing carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide, too, but it can only store so much. 

As temperatures rise, winters grow shorter. The ice on the Great Lakes forms later and disappears earlier. Colorado's snowpack is melting as many as 30 days earlier than it was just a generation ago. With less snow in the New Mexico and Colorado mountains to feed the Rio Grande, the river is drying up.

Meanwhile, springs are wetter with flooding more common (and more destructive), and summers are drier with longer stifling heat waves that can be debilitating—and deadly—for those who cannot afford the price of staying cool. Strong winds fuel wildfires across mountain forests, and barges run aground in the low waters of the Mississippi River.

Evaporation threatens supplies of water for drinking and irrigation, while algal blooms choke inland lakes. In the heartland, crop yields are declining. Along the coasts, land is getting too salty for farming, as intruding saltwater seeps into freshwater aquifers and groundwater. 

Spectacular beaches are also disappearing. Rising seas threaten the existence of scenic barrier islands. According to a 2020 study published in npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, ocean levels around the world could rise more than four feet by 2100 if aggressive mitigation efforts aren't undertaken.

Many states are taking action to burn less coal, use less electricity, tighten fuel standards, encourage people to drive less, create greener cities, and construct more efficient buildings to change our consumption, our behaviors, our habits, and our attitudes about warming temperatures. Keep reading to see which states have experienced the fastest temperature increases in the last 52 years and how those increases have affected the people calling those states home.

#10. New York

- Temperature change 1970-2022: 3.9° F
- Fastest warming metro areas:
--- New York (La Guardia) (+5.2° F, #7 fastest-warming city)
--- New York (JFK) (+4.6° F, #21 fastest-warming city)
--- Syracuse (+4.1° F, #47 fastest-warming city)

About a third of New York's electricity comes from nuclear power plants, considered zero emitters. In 2020, the state produced more hydroelectric power than every state except Washington and Oregon. With almost one in three residents using public transportation to get to work (pre-pandemic), New York consumes less petroleum per capita than any other state. But warming temperatures—particularly upstate in cities like Albany—leave the state vulnerable to destructive storms and inland flooding.

#9. Connecticut

- Temperature change 1970-2022: 4.0° F
- Fastest warming metro areas:
--- Hartford (+4.3° F, #37 fastest-warming city)
--- Bridgeport (+4.3° F, #36 fastest-warming city)

A major source of temperature increases in Connecticut is the warming ocean. Research has found those higher temperatures spread inland via connected waterways. As sea levels rise, Connecticut's coastal wetlands, beaches, and shoreline development are threatened. Inland, warmer temperatures disrupt the state's lucrative dairy industry, causing cows to eat less and produce less milk.

#8. Virginia

- Temperature change 1970-2022: 4.0° F
- Fastest warming metro areas:
--- Richmond (+5.4° F, #5 fastest-warming city)
--- Roanoke (+4.6° F, #23 fastest-warming city)

Nearly two-thirds of Virginia's electricity is generated by the burning of fossil fuels. Two proposed pipelines—the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline—would cross the state carrying natural gas from West Virginia and have prompted concern over Virginia's links to natural gas. The state has experienced increasingly frequent and destructive storms and flooding.

#7. Massachusetts

- Temperature change 1970-2022: 4.1° F
- Fastest warming metro areas:
--- Worcester (+4.0° F, #55 fastest-warming city)
--- Boston (+3.6° F, #83 fastest-warming city)

Carbon emissions from cars and trucks are among the biggest sources of greenhouse gases in Massachusetts, due in part to extensive commuting in the Boston metro area and traffic congestion. With precipitation from heavy storms up 70% from the mid-20th century across the Northeast, flooding has threatened coastal communities and tidal wetlands where bass and clams are harvested. Warmer ocean waters mean the cod and lobster industry will also suffer.

#6. Ohio

- Temperature change 1970-2022: 4.1° F
- Fastest warming metro areas:
--- Akron (+5.7° F, #3 fastest-warming city)
--- Cincinnati (+4.9° F, #10 fastest-warming city)
--- Toledo (+4.6° F, #26 fastest-warming city)

Ohio is among the top 10 biggest coal-consuming states. In fact, in consumes three times as much coal as it produces. The last decade has been the state's wettest ever, and warming brings the threat of more frequent and dangerous flooding.


#5. Pennsylvania

- Temperature change 1970-2022: 4.1° F
- Fastest warming metro areas:
--- Philadelphia (+5.9° F, #2 fastest-warming city)
--- Erie (+5.2° F, #6 fastest-warming city)
--- Harrisburg (+4.6° F, #19 fastest-warming city)

Pennsylvania's greenhouse gas emissions come from industry, power plants, natural gas drilling, and traffic. Warmer temperatures lead to increased precipitation and powerful storms, both of which have taken a toll on infrastructure and crops. The warming also brings higher populations of ticks that carry Lyme disease; Pennsylvania has among the highest number of Lyme cases in the nation.

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#4. Maryland

- Temperature change 1970-2022: 4.2° F
- Fastest warming metro areas:
--- Salisbury (+5.0° F, #8 fastest-warming city)
--- Baltimore (+4.4° F, #30 fastest-warming city)

Sea levels are climbing faster in Maryland than elsewhere because the state's coastal area itself is sinking. With the sea-level rise comes beach erosion, submerged tidal wetlands, and the intrusion of saltwater into freshwater aquifers, rendering soil too salty for crops and trees.

#3. Delaware

- Temperature change 1970-2022: 4.4° F
- Fastest warming metro areas:
--- Wilmington (+4.4° F, #34 fastest-warming city)

Projections show that Rising temperatures in Delaware mean the state, which has an average of 10 dangerous heat days a year, will have five times as many by 2050; around 20,000 state residents are already considered vulnerable to extreme heat. Delaware has a greater proportion of its land at risk of coastal flooding than any other continental state, except for Florida and Louisiana.

#2. Rhode Island

- Temperature change 1970-2022: 4.4° F
- Fastest warming metro areas:
--- Providence (+4.7° F, #13 fastest-warming city)

Transportation—including the use of cars, trucks, airplanes, and boats—accounts for more than a third of Rhode Island's greenhouse gas emissions, followed by electricity consumption and residential heating. In addition, the state's 420 miles of coastline along the warming Gulf Stream contributes to temperature increases. 

#1. New Jersey

- Temperature change 1970-2022: 4.5° F
- Fastest warming metro areas:
--- Atlantic City (+4.9° F, #9 fastest-warming city)

Warming in New Jersey is linked to its location on the Atlantic coast, where higher water temperatures impact air temperatures. The rise of ocean temperatures on the east coast in the last three decades has forced aquatic life like American shad and lobster to move north. Inland lakes have been stricken with toxic algae blooms that have closed beaches. 

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