The New, New England Weather

By Michael J. Caduto

On August 28, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene dropped more than 11 inches of rain in just 12 hours across some parts of central and southern Vermont, causing catastrophic flooding. Five days later, a silt plume composed of soil and sediment washed away by Irene flowed out of the mouth of the Connecticut River into Long Island Sound. NASA Photo.

New England’s weather is famously mercurial. Our response to its unpredictability has traditionally been a mix of stoicism and pride in being able to ride out any storm and land on our feet. This response has been severely put to the test in recent decades as record-breaking temperatures, extreme weather events and shifting seasonal patterns have all come to a head in disasters like Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, and extreme flooding events during the summer of 2023.

Another bit of iconic New England folk wisdom—often classically delivered by a taciturn old-timer—is that of resignation while regarding New England weather as an immutable force of nature that cannot be controlled. But the mythology that New Englanders do not impact our weather has been shattered by climate change. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the temperature across New England is rising faster and higher than any other region in the United States. The number of storms producing extreme precipitation in Vermont has risen steadily since the mid-1990s.

Over the course of the past century, and especially since the early 1970’s, global warming has become the driving force behind our meteorology. The weather we now experience is a direct result of more than a century of ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions that have created today’s layer of heat-trapping atmospheric gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and water vapor. While we will never be able to determine our weather in the short term, human activity now drives long-range weather patterns on a global scale.

The 2023 United Nations report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leaves no place to hide nor time to procrastinate on taking actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate global warming. Average global temperatures have already increased by 1.1°C (2.0°F) since the advent of the industrial age. At the current rate of global warming, sometime in the early-to-mid 2030s we will cross the Rubicon of 1.5°C (2.7°F), beyond which we will no longer be able to avert the most serious impacts of climate change, ranging from extreme heat, drought and flooding to species extinction and worldwide food shortages.

What we do in the coming days, weeks, months and years—throughout the next decade—will determine how far, and for how long, we will either continue to travel on our current meteorological path, or slow down climate change in its tracks. The question of how many more summers like 2023 we will experience is, ultimately, in our hands—hinging entirely on how quickly we act to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Fortunately—as demonstrated by the widespread expression of community spirit and generosity in the face of Vermont’s recent flooding—New England’s time-honored tradition remains strong for pulling together in order to assist and support one another in times of hardship and need. The challenge we now face is to harness this collective power and apply it with all of our will, might and ingenuity to implement the multitude of actions that are required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as humanly possible.

An old saying goes, “If you don’t like New England weather, wait a minute.” It’s time to replace that adage with a new turn of phrase that reflects humankind’s ever-growing influence on our planet’s meteorology: “If you don’t like New England weather, do something about it.”

What You Can Do:

  • While helping one another to recover and rebuild in the aftermath of recent flooding, take the opportunity to incorporate repairs and reconstruction designs that will increase energy efficiency, reduce the use of fossil fuels and make our homes, businesses and municipal buildings more flood-resistant.
  • Express your strong support for net-zero designs in all new municipal buildings and renovations of existing structures in your town and village, including such projects as the new Woodstock Union High School and Middle School and upcoming renovations to the Woodstock Wastewater Treatment Plant.
  • Organize members of your community with the goal of creating Net-Zero Neighborhoods by 2030. The Upper Valley is already the first region in Vermont or New Hampshire to create a position of Regional Energy Coordinator (Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission). Let’s build on that momentum with leadership that will inspire other communities to act.
  • ACT NOW to accomplish whatever you have been considering doing in your own life to reduce carbon emissions, whether it be weatherization or installing a heat pump or solar panels. Given the generous clean-energy incentives, rebates and discounts presently available under the federal Inflation Reduction Act, there will never be a better opportunity to save a considerable amount of money while reducing the use of energy and cutting greenhouse gases.
  • Voice your concerns about the immediacy of the fight against global warming to your local, statewide and national leaders. Encourage them to support every legislative effort to enforce carbon emission reduction goals and to direct even more resources toward fighting global warming.
  • For more ideas and actions to take, read “What you can do about climate change” in the October 7, 2021 edition of the Vermont Standard archives (page D2).


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