Understand Your Vulnerabilities

The pages linked below provide data and maps to help you understand how climate change will impact your community. This information can help you understand why action is needed, see which neighborhoods and natural resources are most at risk, and make decisions about where to prioritize projects.

What Hazards Are We Facing in North Carolina?

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Indoor Air Quality
Damp conditions are ideal for the growth of indoor fungi and mold, increasing the likelihood of health effects. For example, without proper renovation, previously flooded homes can cause residents to experience headaches, sneezing and runny noses. For some people, exposure to mold leads to respiratory problems like asthma attacks.

Outdoor Air Quality
Extreme heat and wildfires contribute to poor air quality. High temperatures increase electricity needs. Nonrenewable sources of electricity contribute to poor air quality. And smoke from wildfires, which are becoming larger and more frequent, creates health challenges, especially for people with preexisting conditions. This smoke can travel long distances, like when smoke from massive Canadian wildfires reached North Carolina in 2023, causing restrictions on outdoor activities.

See past, current and forecasted air quality and weather conditions for your hometown

Warm weather is lasting for more of the year. For example, North Carolina’s growing season is now 12 days longer than average. More days of warm weather means residents need more energy to cool their homes with air conditioning or fans. The largest increases in days that require cooling strategies are occurring in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain regions. Similarly, the number of days that require heating is decreasing across the state. The largest decreases are occurring in the Piedmont and Western Mountain regions.

Residents are likely to see more frequent and intense droughts in the coming decades. Higher temperatures cause increased evaporation, a main cause of drought. Droughts impact agriculture and natural landscapes and increase wildfire risk.

See how drought is projected to impact your hometown

North Carolina’s coastlines change naturally over time. But these changes are becoming more dramatic because of sea level rise and coastal storms. Strong coastal storms have created new inlets along the Outer Banks for years. However, higher water levels — driven by sea level rise — will continue eroding beaches. This erosion will make it more likely for coastal storms to create new inlets, close existing ones and even completely wash over barrier islands. The National Park Service estimated 54 new inlets were cut into the narrow strip of sandy beaches in the southernmost Outer Banks in 2019 due to Hurricane Dorian. In addition to sea level rise, storm surge and large waves that come with storms can case major dune erosion. Eroding shores will threaten most coastal towns unless people take measures to halt the erosion or move vulnerable structures away from the coast.

Intense rainfall causes erosion of streambeds, hillsides and riverbanks. Heavier rainfall leads to higher river levels and faster water flow, which can erode the banks of waterways. Eroded banks can cause floodwater to move even faster, damaging plants, animal habitat and human-built structures. Erosion can damage roads and bridges, as well, creating challenges for emergency responders among others.

In all four seasons, temperatures in North Carolina are rising. Residents, especially those in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions, will likely experience higher heat index values, more nights where the temperature doesn’t fall below 75 F — risky for those without access to air conditioning, and more heat waves. In North Carolina’s growing urban centers, hot days result in urban heat islands. As temperatures rise, North Carolinians will use more energy to cool their homes and buildings.

Also of note: July 2023 was the hottest month recorded on earth since we started tracking global temperatures.

See how daytime highs and nighttime low temperatures are projected to change in your hometown

See a map of heat risk in your hometown

Many North Carolina communities are already flood prone and there are more heavy rain events — defined as three inches or more in a day — than in the past. We can expect more flooding from extreme rainfall, especially as tropical storms and hurricanes become more frequent and intense.

See how heavy precipitation is projected to impact your hometown

See a map of flood risk in your hometown

Coastal Flooding and Sea Level Rise
Along the coast, rising sea levels and stronger storms, especially hurricanes, are already increasing the frequency of flooding. Sea level rise is causing floods during high tides, otherwise known as sunny day flooding, in many areas already. Sea level has risen about 2 inches per decade on the northeastern coast of the state since 1978. Along the southeastern coast of North Carolina, sea levels have risen about 1 inch per decade since 1935. Sea level rise differs across the state and along other coasts because of land subsidence, or when the ground settles or sinks. Sea levels will continue to rise as icecaps melt and warming ocean water expands. 

High tide flooding happens when sea level rise pushes water levels above the normal high tide mark. Due to sea level rise, by 2100 many areas along the North Carolina coast will experience daily high tide flooding.

See how much sea levels are projected to rise in your coastal hometown

Landslides are most common in the Mountain region of North Carolina because of steep slopes. The Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions also have landslides that are commonly related to human activity such as making a road cut too steep. Large rainstorms, hurricanes, freeze-thaw processes and human activities, such as building roads and structures without adequate grading of slopes, can trigger landslides.

See a map of landslide risk in North Carolina

Winters are becoming warmer overall. By the 2030s, we expect the number of cold nights — when temperatures fall to 32 degrees or lower — to decrease across the state by up to 12 nights per year. The Coastal Plain region will see the smallest changes. By the 2050s, the number of cold nights will decrease by up to 18 nights per year.

Because of increasing temperatures, North Carolinians can expect decreases in total snowfall and the number of heavy snowstorms in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain regions. However, higher elevations along the Tennessee border may see more snowfall from the Great Lakes in the coming decades.

See how cold temperatures are projected to change in your hometown

As climate patterns change, nature is changing, too. Storms and increasing temperatures alter habitats and can challenge the plants and animals living there. Wind intensity can damage trees and forests. Coastal erosion from storm surge can remove dunes and marshes. Saltwater intrusion from sea level rise and storm surge can lead to the loss of forests, wetlands and freshwater habitats. Increasing water temperatures can cause mortality of aquatic organisms. At the same time, many of North Carolina’s ecosystems are already strained by other human-caused changes in the environment. Climate change can magnify the stress from land use changes, invasive species and habitat fragmentation.

Vector-borne diseases — diseases transmitted primarily by ticks, mosquitoes and fleas — are becoming more common in the state. These diseases include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme’s disease, Tidewater spotted fever, LaCrosse virus, West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis and Q fever. Most of these diseases can cause serious illness or even death.

Many climate hazards are already impacting the amount of clean water available to the people, plants and animals in North Carolina. Heavy rains can flood stormwater and sewage systems, toxic waste facilities and livestock waste lagoons. These facilities may be at risk of failure or overflow, meaning they might release pollution and other toxic materials into waterways. 

Drought affects community and individual water supplies, too. During droughts, contaminants can build up on the ground. When rain hits dry ground, flash floods can overwhelm stormwater systems. As a result, communities may see a reduction in water quality and an increase in waterborne diseases during drought. 

During droughts, more harmful algal blooms occur. Harmful algal blooms are when colonies of freshwater or sea algae grow out of control and produce toxic or harmful effects on people, birds and aquatic species. These algal blooms carry toxins that may be harmful when ingested or inhaled. They also reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water, which can lead to fish kills and other negative impacts to aquatic habitats.

North Carolina’s coast and mountains should beware of potential increases in the number of weeks with risk of very large wildfires. We expect an increase in the amount of land burned by wildfires and an increase in the number of months per year when wildfires burn. The risk for wildfire harm is especially high in places where development is growing next to forests or natural land.

See a map of wildfire risk in your hometown

The intensity of the strongest hurricanes and thunderstorms will continue to increase in coming decades. High winds may occur during these storms, causing major property damage. In the coming years, North Carolinians may also experience more tornadoes, which can spawn from hurricanes. Tornadoes, hurricanes and other high wind events can take out power for many communities and cause property damage.