Ask Don Paul: What could future warming impacts be in Western New York? – Buffalo News
Western New York Great Lakes-related climate change is most closely tied to Lakes Erie and, secondarily, Ontario. We can’t examine ongoing and likely future impacts from a warming climate treating our region purely as a small microcosm insulated from broader regional trends. Even so, we can at least begin with an updated look at Buffalo-area warming, based on NOAA data supplied by the research group Climate Central.
Every 10 years, bracketed 30-year periods of climate normals around the nation are updated, and such an update has just been completed. The warming trend for Buffalo, particularly compared to 20th century averages, is indisputable. Warming is the new normal.
In this updated 30-year period, the warming covers most of the nation with the exception of the north central states. Of course, the warming is more marked when compared to the first 30 years of the 20th century.
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In a report summarized by PHYS.org, a science and technology news organization based in the United Kingdom, NOAA climate data shows the Great Lakes region is warming faster than the rest of the U.S. by .4 degrees since the 20th century. The Environmental Law and Policy Center relied on analysis from 18 university experts and NOAA for gathered information and conclusions in their report. (This data also includes southern Canada portions of the region.)
Keeping in mind the marine layer of the atmosphere near the Great Lakes is modified by the large bodies of water that keep places like Buffalo cooler during the warm weather months, these numbers may seem surprising, on first impression. However, in cold weather months, the warmer lake waters also modify the lower atmosphere when arctic air intrusions arrive in the region. The pace of future warming will be largely determined by the amounts of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane that humanity adds to the atmosphere in industrial, transportation and agricultural output, and how much reduction in those gas volumes is achieved.
U.S. precipitation rose by 4% from 1901-1915, but Great Lakes regional precipitation rose by 10%. Warming temperatures increase evaporation and add more water vapor to the atmosphere to be made available for both rain and snowfall. These increases in water vapor are likely to lead to more heavy and flooding rainfall events. In smaller scale lake-effect events, snowfall amounts may be enhanced by both warmer waters as energy sources and the greater amounts of precipitable water from increased water vapor. This will probably be the case even though less frequent arctic intrusions occur. These may have been highly significant factors in the Christmas weekend blizzard. I wrote about possible climate tie-ins on Dec. 27.
There is a still unresolved paradox on the future impacts on lake snowfall in our region from the warming climate. On the one hand, there is the greater probability of more open lake waters providing more water vapor for lake-effect events. The amount of liquid equivalent in the December disaster was extremely high when the bomb cyclone directed near-hurricane-force southwest winds into Buffalo and the Northtowns in a short-lived vicious arctic blast. Yet the other side of the paradox will be the reduction in the frequency of arctic intrusions. We can have an open, warmer Lake Erie, but if we don’t have a supply of arctic air above the lake, snowfall amounts from lake effect shrink and the number of lak- effect events goes down. That is what happened for the majority of our past winter, following the blizzard. Statistically, this was a very mild winter.
The paradox may be complicated by the more rapid warming in the arctic, which probably has a suggestive but inconclusive connection with shorter harsh episodic arctic intrusions in an otherwise milder winter, as occurred in late December.
It may be that in future milder winters, these extreme episodes will be more likely to occur earlier in the winter, as was the case last November and December, and in the snow events of November 2014. This hypothesis on early polar outbreaks tied to an episodically disrupted, weakened polar vortex remains speculative. After all, it was February 2015 that was the coldest month on record for Buffalo, in the dead of winter.
The warming of the lakes will lead to more algae blooms. In Lake Erie, these blooms are worse in the western end where waters are shallower, and there is more nutrient runoff from Ohio farms, along with urban sewage. There may be increased prevalence of harmful bacteria and more beach closings. Drinking water may be bacterially degraded. Even with air mass modification, the number of heat waves is likely to increase, along with more “sticky” hot days. Beach erosion may increase from heavier rainfall runoff.
On the potentially positive side, growing seasons will lengthen and certain crop yields may benefit from higher levels of carbon dioxide. Nonetheless, the strong scientific consensus is the few benefits from warming will be far outweighed by the negatives.