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Frigid winter masks Climate Change in Rochester

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Probably the last thing worrying most folks in Rochester is Climate Change. This winter has been dangerously cold and threatens to worsen. But the big picture, which is hard to see in our region unless you’re an expert on climate and our environment, is that our region is warming up, just like the rest of the world. As a matter of fact:

Long-term global warming trend sustained in 2013NASA scientists say 2013 tied with 2009 and 2006 for the seventh warmest year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures. With the exception of 1998, the 10 warmest years in the 134-year record have all occurred since 2000, with 2010 and 2005 ranking as the warmest years on record. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, which analyzes global surface temperatures on an ongoing basis, released an updated report Tuesday on temperatures around the globe in 2013. The comparison shows how Earth continues to experience temperatures warmer than those measured several decades ago. (January 21, 2014) NASA Global Climate Change

So, while we’re braving this really cold winter, let’s see what the experts are saying about Climate Change affecting our region NOW. From the over 50 climate studies I’ve sifted through, Climate Change in our region expresses itself in myriad ways. What jumps out at me from the information are not dramatic droughts, floods, or heat waves—as is happening in Australia right now. What jumps out at me from the data below is the breath of changes going on below our public’s ability to perceive them. Without the aid of climate and environmental experts and a responsible media, we are blind to this world crisis.

What’s most chilling of all is that none of these presently observed indicators of Climate Change for our region is decreasing; nor are we doing anything on the level that would make them do so:

  • Annual temperatures increase: “Annual temperatures have been rising throughout the state since the start of the 20th century. State average temperatures have increased by approximately 0.6ºF per decade since 1970, with winter warming exceeding 1.1ºF per decade.” (Page 16, Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) funded by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (2011))
  • Increase in intensive precipitation events: “Intense precipitation events (heavy downpours) have increased in recent decades.” (Page 16, Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) funded by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (2011))
  • Bird population shifts: “Analysis of four decades of Christmas Bird Count observations reveal that birds seen in North America during the first weeks of winter have moved dramatically northward—toward colder latitudes—over the past four decades.” (Page 3, Birds and Climate Change Ecological Disruption in Motion, Audubon, February 2009)
  • Annual temperatures, reduced snowpack, earlier ice break up, and more: “Northeast: Since 1970, the annual average temperature in the Northeast has increased by 2°F, with winter temperatures rising twice this much.4 Warming has resulted in many other climate-related changes, including: More frequent days with temperatures above 90°F; A longer growing season; Increased heavy precipitation; Less winter precipitation falling as snow and more as rain; Reduced snowpack; Earlier breakup of winter ice on lakes and rivers; Earlier spring snowmelt resulting in earlier peak river flows; Rising sea surface temperatures and sea level” (Page 107, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States | The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) 2009)
  • Increase in lake effect snowfall: “There is also evidence of an increase in lake-effect snowfall along and near the southern and eastern shores of the Great Lakes since 1950.” (Page 38, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States | The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) 2009)
  • Increase plant frost damage: “A seemingly paradoxical impact of warming is that it appears to be increasing the risk of plant frost damage. Mild winters and warm, early springs, which are beginning to occur more frequently as climate warms, induce premature plant development and blooming, resulting in exposure of vulnerable young plants and plant tissues to subsequent late-season frosts.” (Page 73-74, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States | The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) 2009)
  • Plant growth and decomposition affected: “Ecosystem processes, such as those that control growth and decomposition, have been affected by climate change.” (Page 79, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States | The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) 2009)
  • Species shifting locations: “Large-scale shifts have occurred in the ranges of species and the timing of the seasons and animal migration, and are very likely to continue.” (Page 80, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States | The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) 2009)
  • Streamflow changes: “Historical data for rivers in the Northeast show changes in the amount and timing of flows. Over the last 100 years, average annual streamflow increased at 22 of 27 sites on rivers in New England (Hodgkins and Dudley 2005). In addition, peak flows came earlier. Streamflow data from 11 rural rivers show that high spring flow (as measured by the date on which half of the water discharged from January through May has passed the gage) is occurring 1 to 2 weeks earlier now than in the 1930s (Hodgkins et al. 2003). Average March flows have increased and average May flows have decreased, lowering the May peak and making flows more uniform during the snowmelt season. These changes are consistent with the impact of reductions in the snowpack and warmer late winter temperatures. Hartley and Dingman (1993) reached similar conclusions. They found that maximum river flows in watersheds across the region occurred approximately 5.4 days earlier for each 1.8 °F (1 °C) increase in average annual temperatures. Peak river flows on most of the streams analyzed also increased over the past 75 years. “(Page 11, Changing Climate, Changing Forests: The Impacts of Climate Change on Forests of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada, U.S. Forest Service, July 2012)
  • Amphibians responding to Climate Change: “All amphibians in the Northeast require moist habitats, and so all are potentially sensitive to the changes in temperature and precipitation associated with climate change. One study suggests that amphibians are already responding, with some species calling 10 to 13 days earlier than they were at the beginning of the 20th century (Gibbs and Breisch 2001).” (Page 31, Changing Climate, Changing Forests: The Impacts of Climate Change on Forests of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada, U.S. Forest Service, July 2012)
  • Invasive species thriving: “The northerly spread and ultimate range of the adelgid will likely be controlled by the severity, duration, and timing of minimum winter temperatures. Currently, the adelgid is restricted to areas where minimum winter temperatures stay above -20 °F (-29 °C). In a study of 36 sites across the Northeast, adelgid mortality was positively correlated with latitude and minimum temperatures recorded per site. Its cold hardiness also depends on time of year; the insects lose their ability to tolerate cold as the winter progresses (Skinner et al. 2003). Thus not only the severity but the timing of cold events is critical. If warming occurs as predicted, milder winters may remove the current limits to the adelgid’s range, and increased survival and fecundity may result in larger populations.” (Page 21, Changing Climate, Changing Forests: The Impacts of Climate Change on Forests of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada, U.S. Forest Service, July 2012)
  • Wildlife affected by Climate Change: “Wildlife in northeastern forests is already being affected by climate change. 147 Species dependent on mountaintops and their predominantly coniferous habitats will be particularly at risk, due to limited opportunity to move upward in elevation.” (Page 32, Wildlife in a Warming World Confronting the Climate Crisis | (National Wildlife Federation 2013)
  • Declining Lake-Ice cover: “Declining Lake-Ice Cover: Climate change has already driven a huge decrease in winter ice cover throughout the Great Lakes from the period of 1973 to 2010.128 Ice cover across the Great Lakes has declined by an average of 71 percent. Lake St. Clair ice cover has declined the least at 37 percent, while Lake Ontario has declined the most at 88 percent. Declining ice cover could benefit the shipping industry, but would leave coastal wetlands and shorelines more vulnerable to erosion.” (Page 29, Wildlife in a Warming World Confronting the Climate Crisis | (National Wildlife Federation 2013).
  • Increase in heat-related illnesses: “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have identified a number of health effects associated with climate change, including an increase in heat-related illnesses and deaths from more frequent heat waves, a rise in asthma and other respiratory illnesses due to increased air pollution, higher rates of food- and water-related diseases, and an increase in the direct and indirect impacts of extreme weather events, like hurricanes.” (Page 6, Climate Change 101: Understanding and Responding to Global Climate Change published by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. January 2011)
  • Increase in incidents of ground-level ozone: “Research has shown that ground-level ozone formation is affected by weather and climate. Many studies have focused on the relationship between temperature and ozone concentrations (Wolff and Lioy, 1978; Atwater, 1984; Kuntasal and Chang, 1987; Wackter and Bayly, 1988; Wakim, 1989). For example, the large increase in ozone concentrations at ground level in 1988 in the United States and in parts of southern Canada can be attributed, in part, to meteorological conditions; 1988 was the third-hottest summer in the past 100 years. In general, the aforementioned studies suggest a nonlinear relationship between temperature and ozone concentrations at ground level: Below temperatures of 22-26C (70-80F), there is no relationship between ozone concentrations and temperature; above 32C (90F), there is a strong positive relationship.” ( The Regional Impacts of Climate Change 8.3.9.2. Air Quality and Ground-Level Ozone, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
  • Livestock affected more by heat stress: “Heat stress already causes an estimated $2.4 billion in annual losses to U.S. livestock industries. Within the Northeast, despite the region’s historically moderate summers, losses have been estimated at $50.8 million per year for Pennsylvania, $24.9 million for New York, and $5.4 million for Vermont—the vast majority of which occurred in the dairy industry.9 Rising summer heat threatens to increase these losses.(Page 69, Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast from Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (2007))
  • Timing of seasons is off: “Timing of seasons: The blooming of certain flowers and the budding of leaves on trees are welcome harbingers of spring and important indicators of climate change. The firstbloom dates for lilacs, for example, have shifted four days earlier since the 1960s, and even greater shifts of six to eight days have been observed for grape vines and apple trees.” (Page 11, Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast from Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (2007))
  • Northeast extreme weather increasing: “Although rarer than nor’easters, the Northeast is also occasionally affected by tropical storms and hurricanes that form in the Atlantic during the summer and fall. There is growing evidence that the intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes has already been increasing;75,76,77 debate continues over a definitive link between global warming and increased hurricane frequency.78,79,80,81,82 It is clear that observed ocean warming—a key condition for the formation and strengthening of hurricanes—cannot be explained by natural cycles alone. Recent studies suggest that increased hurricane intensity, as exemplified by the rising number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes, is driven at least in part by global warming.” (Page 31, Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast from Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (2007))
  • More extreme weather driving up liability claims: “CORPORATE LIABILITY: Legal developments related to climate change are driving up liability claims for many insurers in the United States. These cases range from recovering costs of relocating communities away from land inundated by rising seas12 to restitution for damages from extreme events intensified by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.13 search: observe, current, present, have been, appears to be start with climate (Page 10, CLIMATE RISK DISCLOSURE BY INSURERS: Evaluating Insurer Responses to the NAIC Climate Disclosure Survey | A Ceres Report, September 2011
  • NYS coastal sea level rising: “Climate change also has impacts on marine resources and coastal regions. Currently, sea levels are rising an average of 0.86 to 1.5 inches per decade, as measured by tide gauges, with an average of 1.2 inches per decade since 1900. Before the Industrial Revolution, the rate of increase had been approximately 0.34 to 0.43 inches per decade, mostly as a result of land subsidence (NYCPCC 2010). For the Long Island and New York City shorelines, models predict a rise of 7-12 inches by 2050 and 19-29 inches by 2080.” (Page 10, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan Region 2 Climate Change Workgroup USEPA Region 2 New York, NY 9/18/2013)
  • Climate Change causing plants to shift: “In an analysis of 866 peer-reviewed papers exploring the ecological consequences of climate change, nearly 60 percent of the 1598 species studied exhibited shifts in their distributions and/or phenologies over the 20-and 140-year time frame. Analyses of field based phenological responses have reported shifts as great as 5.1 days per decade, with an average of 2.3 days per decade across all species.” (Page 9, The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity | U.S. Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3 May 2008 USDA Office of the Chief Economist United States Department of Agriculture)
  • Forest pests increasing: “Climate plays a major role in driving, or at least influencing, infestations of these important forest insect species in the United States (e.g., Holsten et al. 1999; Logan et al. 2003a; Car­roll et al. 2004; Tran et al. in press), and these recent large outbreaks are likely influenced by observed increases in temperature.” (Page 82, The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity | U.S. Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3 May 2008 USDA Office of the Chief Economist United States Department of Agriculture)

BTW: What are the temperature and precipitation projections for Monroe County? Hint: might want to enjoy this cold snap while you can.

New USGS Website Has Climate Projections for Your County What does the future of climate look like where you live? For the first time, maps and summaries of temperature and precipitation projections for the 21st century are accessible at a county-by-county level, thanks to a website developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in collaboration with the College of Earth, Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. The maps and summaries are based on a NASA dataset that covers the contiguous U.S. on an 800-meter grid. NASA created the dataset by downscaling 33 climate models used in the 5th Climate Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Assessment Report (IPCC AR5). (December 13, 2014) The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)

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