Delaware’s Climate Impacts

Climate change looks different depending on where you are in the world. In Delaware, climate change primarily takes the form of sea level rise, increasing temperatures and more frequent intense storms, including heavy precipitation and flooding.

While the Earth’s climate naturally changes over millions of years, scientists agree that human activities are causing the Earth’s climate to warm at unprecedented speed. Excessive greenhouse gas emissions contribute to changes that have already been observed in Delaware, such as hotter temperatures and more extreme precipitation. The continued health and quality of life of Delaware’s residents are dependent upon reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases and maintaining and improving the state’s resilience to the impacts of climate change.

What Do We Know About Climate Change and Delaware?

Over the coming years, it is projected that Delaware will face higher temperatures, more high heat days, increased heavy precipitation events and sea level rise.

The impacts from each of these threatens the state’s industries, infrastructure, natural resources and health of residents.

Sea Level Rise

Increased Temperatures

Heavy Precipitation and Flooding

The Mid-Atlantic region lies within a sea level rise “hotspot” where sea levels could rise faster and higher than elsewhere due to a combination of rising seas and sinking land.

Sea Level Rise in Delaware Graphic

The 2010 decade was the hottest on record, with 2016 being the hottest year and with 2019 the second hottest year. The average annual temperature in Delaware has increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900 and warmed at a rate of about 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.

A warming climate contributes to intensification of the water cycle, meaning that when rainfall occurs, it tends to be more intense, with an accompanying increased risk of flooding. The number of very wet days, with more than two inches of rainfall within 24 hours, is projected to increase. The frequency and intensity of precipitation events is also projected to increase over the coming century.

The Delaware Climate Change Impact Assessment

The Delaware Climate Change Impact Assessment breaks down past and projected future climate trends in Delaware, and what these trends mean for Delaware’s public health, water resources, agriculture, infrastructure and ecosystems. Read the full report or a 12-page summary.

The Delaware Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment

The Delaware Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment takes a deep dive into the impacts that sea level rise has on the state. The assessment includes details on:

  • Sea level rise trends in Delaware
  • Future scenarios for sea level rise in Delaware
  • Mapping and data for over 75 natural resources and structures that will be impacted by rising seas, including schools, fire stations, homes, wetlands, factories, wells, roads and habitats.

Delaware Climate + Health Conference Summary Report

The Delaware Climate + Health Conference Summary Report highlights findings from the 2017 conference, which explored how climate change is affecting public health in Delaware. The conference particularly focused on extreme heat, air quality and vector-borne diseases.

Economic Analysis of the Impacts of Climate Change in the State of Delaware

To fully understand the costs of climate change, and to effectively complete cost/benefit analysis on proposed climate adaptation strategies, it is important to understand the costs of failing to act on climate risks. From transportation delays due to flooded roads to lost wages when it’s too hot out to work, the costs of unmitigated climate change are high. The Economic Analysis of the Impacts of Climate Change in the State of Delaware report estimates the economic costs of climate risks posed in key sectors such as transportation, public health, and agriculture in Delaware.

This report is not a comprehensive analysis of all possible climate impacts. The impacts chosen were derived from the 2014 Delaware Climate Impact Assessment and the 2013 Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment. In total, 26 impact categories across 5 sectors were analyzed, including Natural Resources (DNREC), Human Health (DHSS), Transportation (DelDOT), Agriculture (DDA) and Human Safety (DSHS).

Key Takeaways – Statewide:

  • The total economic impact by late century for all five sectors is well over $1 billion annually (based on the value of a dollar in 2019).
  • Delay costs (i.e., the public welfare loss associated with transportation delays) are the highest impact measure by the end of century, between $500 million and $600 million per year.
  • Fatal risk and economic welfare measures show similarly high damages, particularly by the end of the century.
    • Fatal risk (e.g., willingness-to-pay to avoid fatal human health risk) – between $200 million and $450 million.
    • Economic Welfare (e.g., willingness-to-pay for improved water quality) – between ~$350 million and ~$590 million.
  • Lost revenues (e.g., crop production losses and lost wages), the impact category with the smallest value, still reach nearly $31 million per year under RCP8.5 by the end of the century.
  • When summed across the century, and across all impact measures, cumulative potential economic impacts of climate change total over $69 billion for the state.

For the Economic Analysis of the Impacts of Climate Change in the State of Delaware report, DNREC contracted with Industrial Economics, Incorporated, (IEc) to examine the economic impacts that climate change is projected to have on Delaware.

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