New N.Y. _ less snow, more rain
Posted June 25, 2018 7:06 a.m. EDT
Climate change is not coming to New York. It is already here, from the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake George to Adirondack ski slopes and the Atlantic coastline of New York City.
To an average person, rising temperatures over the years might barely seem noticeable. Statewide, the average year-round temperature since 1988 has been almost 46 degrees, up from a 44.4 degree average from 1901 to 1960, according to records compiled by the Associated Press.
In the Hudson Valley, including the Capital Region, the average temperature for that same period rose from almost 47 degrees to about 48.8 degrees.
That might not seem like much, until you consider facts like this: The ticks that carry Lyme disease and other illnesses rapidly expanding through the state become active once it hits 45 degrees, so earlier springs and later falls will extend both tick ranges and seasons.
Climate change impact will only grow as temperatures continue creeping up as part of man-made climate change, said Mark Wysocki, the state climatologist based at Cornell University.
This is already changing the impact of water in New York, including less snow and ice, rising seas from melting ice and thermal expansion, and more rain, particularly in very heavy, damaging episodes.
Average rainfall is up 3 inches a year from 1950, with increased periods of heavier downpours and longer droughts, he said.
Average annual snowfall in some parts is down 20 inches. At the Olympic cross-country ski center in Lake Placid, an artificial snow machine was purchased in 2017 to provide cover during increasingly common snowless periods.
Warmer, shorter winters also mean that Lake George is icing over less often, said Larry Eichler, a research scientist at the Darrin Fresh Water Institute in Bolton Landing, an affiliate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Since 1990, the lake failed to freeze over in 11 seasons, he said. That happened just three times in the previous eight decades.
Now, the lake is 1.8 degrees warmer than before 1990, which fuels the growth of algae and threatens its legendary clear waters. Ice acts as a shade over the lake, Eichler said, keeping down algae growth in winter.
To the west, more rain is draining into Lake Ontario, where last year flooding and wind-blown surges pounded the New York shoreline, causing massive erosion and millions of dollars in damage.
The amount of water that came into Lake Ontario in 2017 was 14 percent greater than it was in 2011 and 19 percent above two decades ago, according to Wysocki.
On the Atlantic, sea level around metropolitan New York is rising an inch a decade, which raises the risk of floods from major storms, like Hurricanes Irene and Sandy in 2011 and 2012.
Global warming raises sea levels two ways _ by the melting of land-bound glaciers and ice and by warming sea water, which expands. This century, sea level is up globally by 8 inches.
Some models estimate that by the end of this century, the increase could be between another 4 to 33 inches, depending on whether fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions are constrained. The rise would be much more if the Greenland ice sheet keeps melting, making coastal storms more damaging,
That could be ominous news for New York City and other coastal residents. Research from Princeton University predicts that by the end of this century, the surge for a storm identical to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 _ which was 14 feet above sea level _ could be 5 to 6 feet higher, flooding that much more coastal property.
"Some people are talking about one day building a seawall around New York City for protection," said Wysocki. "That could cost trillions of dollars."
Chris Thorncroft, chairman of atmospheric and environmental sciences at the University at Albany, recalled the old saying about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. "Our story will be the wet getting wetter and the dry getting drier," he said.
As the global atmosphere warms, evaporation of surface water also has sped up, so that the atmosphere holds 4 percent more water vapor than it did during the 1970s. And that water vapor has nowhere to go but down.
Intense rainstorms in New York and the rest of the Northeast are becoming more common, according to a study by UAlbany master's degree student Macy Howarth. Since 1997, there have been 724 storms of 2 inches or more, up 25 percent since the early 1980s.
For storms of 4 inches or more, the increase tops 50 percent (from 55 to 85). And for very rare and extreme 6-inch storms, the increase has been 300 percent (from 6 to 24.)
Cornell Professor Natalie Mahowald looks back at an international climate report she helped write in 2014 that warned of ongoing changes and future risks.
Mahowald said the findings of the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change, based on 9,200 climate science studies from around the world, remain valid.
She recalled learning in early 2017 that President Donald Trump, who has dismissed climate change as hoax, was withdrawing from an international agreement to reduce emissions of fossil fuel greenhouse gases, which an international scientific consensus identifies as the cause of climate change.
"I was very disappointed," she said, "because that agreement requires the U.S. to do very little _ 30 percent cuts _ which will probably happen naturally anyway as we move away from old inefficient energy sources like coal and move to more efficient and cheaper renewable sources. In addition, it means that the U.S. is not at the table when really important decisions are made."
bnearing(at)timesunion.com - 518-454-5094 - Twitter: (at)Bnearing10