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Fastest-warming states since 1970

  • 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 find out which states have warmed the fastest since 1970, Stacker consulted Climate Central's 2020 Earth Day report. In this report, we looked at the Applied Climate Information System’s time-series data from major metropolitan areas in each state.

    The leading cause of temperature increases today is human-derived greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide and methane, which trap heat in our atmosphere. 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 to produce oxygen. The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide, too, but that process makes it more acidic.

    As temperatures rise, winters grow shorter. The ice on the Great Lakes forms later and disappears earlier. Colorado’s snowpack is melting as much as 30 days sooner 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. Wildfires are whipped across mountain forests by overheated winds, 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.

    Dairy and beef cattle stop eating, foliage trees grow dull, and sugar maple trees die.

    Spectacular beaches are also disappearing. Rising seas threaten the existence of scenic barrier islands, and ocean levels around the world could rise more than four feet by 2100 if aggressive mitigation efforts aren’t undertaken, according to a study published on May 8, 2020, in npj Climate and Atmospheric Science.

    Many states are taking actions 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 50 years, and how those increases have affected the people calling those states home.

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  • #50. Maryland (tie)

    - Temperature change 1970–2019: 1.37° F
    - Fastest-warming metro areas:
    --- Baltimore: 1.3° F
    --- Hagerstown: 1.3° F
    --- Salisbury: 1.5° F

    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.

  • #50. Mississippi (tie)

    - Temperature change 1970–2019: 1.37° F
    - Fastest-warming metro areas:
    --- Hattiesburg: 1.4° F
    --- Jackson: 1.6° F
    --- Tupelo: 2.6° F

    Mississippi soil has grown drier, exacerbating more heavy downpours throughout the state that damage crop yields and livestock. More extreme weather, earlier winter snowmelt to the north, and more powerful rains mean flooding along the Mississippi River is more frequent and more destructive.

  • #50. South Dakota (tie)

    - Temperature change 1970–2019: 1.37° F
    - Fastest-warming metro areas:
    --- Rapid City: 0.6° F
    --- Sioux Falls: 1.7° F
    --- Mitchell: 1.8° F

    South Dakota will suffer a 75% increase in the severity of its summer droughts by 2050. The state now averages 10 dangerous heat days per year; that number is projected to hit 35 days by 2050.

  • #47. Hawaii

    - Temperature change 1970–2019: 1.40° F
    - Fastest-warming metro area:
    --- Honolulu: 1.4° F

    Carbon dioxide emissions in Hawaii, so heavily reliant on tourism, stem largely from its transportation use, both vehicles and airplanes. Rising sea levels imperil Hawaii’s beaches, roads, and coastal communities. Rainfall, meanwhile, has been decreasing, threatening freshwater sources in the mountains that are home to vulnerable species and ecosystems, and increased drought threatens production of taro and breadfruit, traditional food sources.

  • #46. Idaho

    - Temperature change 1970–2019: 1.50° F
    - Fastest-warming metro areas:
    --- Lewiston: 1.7° F
    --- Twin Falls: 1.7° F
    --- Boise: 3.7° F

    Idaho’s arid climate means it tends to warm more easily than other, wetter climates. The temperature rise in Boise is more than twice the national average, attributed in part to the city's car and truck usage. City officials have found the average Boise resident makes 10 trips a day.


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  • #45. Indiana (tie)

    - Temperature change 1970-2019: 1.52° F
    - Fastest warming metro areas:
    --- Fort Wayne: 1.8° F
    --- Evansville: 2° F
    --- Indianapolis: 2.4° F

    Rising temperatures in Indiana are affecting crop production. In 2019, its second-wettest year in history, corn and soybean crop yields dropped significantly, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The corn revenue loss to Indiana farmers alone was estimated at roughly $469 million. Unless Indiana cuts emissions, it is projected that the average number of days in Indiana with a heat index above 100 degrees Fahrenheit will increase from four to 43 days a year by midcentury.

  • #45. Iowa (tie)

    - Temperature change 1970–2019: 1.52° F
    - Fastest-warming metro areas:
    --- Dubuque: 1.5° F
    --- Des Moines: 2.5° F
    --- Waterloo: 2.5° F

    Warming over the Gulf of Mexico pushes more-frequent heavy storms to the midwest, causing destructive flooding in states like Iowa. Development in Des Moines has made flooding worse, due to runoff and an outdated storm sewer system. Flooding endangers farming, from corn to hogs, that makes up a quarter of the state economy. Annual precipitation in Iowa has been increasing since the 1970s at 1.25 inches per decade, the largest increase in the country.

  • #43. Colorado

    - Temperature change 1970–2019: 1.53° F
    - Fastest-warming metro areas:
    --- Grand Junction Area: 0.7° F
    --- Denver: 1.3° F
    --- Colorado Springs: 2.6° F

    Nearly all of Colorado’s greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil fuels burned for electricity, transportation, and residential, commercial, and industrial heating applications. The warming temperatures cause water scarcity, drought, and pine beetle infestation, and the snowpack is reduced, melting as much as 30 days sooner than it was 25 years ago. Colorado relies on snowpack for 70% of its water supply.

  • #42. California

    - Temperature change 1970–2019: 1.56° F
    - Fastest-warming metro areas:
    --- San Francisco: 2.6° F
    --- Santa Maria: 2.8° F
    --- Fresno: 3.6° F

    The use of fossil fuels in California has contributed significantly to rising temperatures. Impacts from these increases include searing heat waves and dry summers that contribute to deadlier wildfires. Fires, in turn, create more warming, emitting carbon dioxide and ash while also destroying forests, homes, and wildlife.

  • #41. Virginia

    - Temperature change 1970–2019: 1.58° F
    - Fastest-warming metro areas:
    --- Norfolk: 2.3° F
    --- Richmond: 2.3° F
    --- Roanoke: 3° F

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

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