Get Ready for Wetter, Stormier Weather in New York

New Yorkers might want to stock up on umbrellas and brace for flooding—a new report from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) predicts that the state will be wetter and stormier in the coming years due to climate change.

More Rain and Storms on the Way 

Per the report, annual precipitation in the state is expected to rise between 6 percent and 17 percent by the end of the 21st century.

Along with bringing more rain, climate change will also lead to more frequent and extreme storms in New York State, according to NYSERDA. The state has already gotten a taste of these weather events in recent years with Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, Superstorm Sandy in 2012, and Hurricane Ida in 2021. NYSERDA projects that high winds and flooding from hurricanes and tropical storms will increase in the coming decades.

How Climate Change Affects Storms

So why will New York State see more precipitation from climate change? Blame the rise in temperature, says Colin Zarzycki, PhD, assistant professor of meteorology and climate dynamics at the Pennsylvania State University.

“The amount of water vapor air can hold is directly related to temperature,” Zarzycki explains. “Warm atmospheres soak up water vapor like a sponge, and when it reaches saturation, that’s when you get the rainfall.”

Average temperatures in New York State have already climbed nearly 2.6°F since 1901. The NYSERDA researchers expect temperatures to rise another 5°F to 11°F by the end of this century, giving the atmosphere more capacity for water vapor and, ultimately, rainfall.

These higher temperatures may also affect the severity of storms. When the water is finally released from the atmospheric “sponge,” it has a higher likelihood of coming down as intense rainfall, says Zarzycki.

Rising ocean temperatures may play a role in increasing extreme weather in New York State, too.

“Historically, the ocean temperatures near New York and Long Island weren’t as warm, so hurricanes couldn’t suck as much energy out of the ocean,” Zarzycki explains. “But as ocean temperatures warm, we think that instead of fizzling out as they make their way up the East Coast, these storms might be able to pack more of a punch.”

Facing an Uncertain Future

While the NYSERDA report suggests New Yorkers will deal with more extreme storms over this century, other factors may help tame their severity, says Zarzycki. Strong changes in the speed or direction of wind (a phenomenon known as “wind shear”) could weaken hurricanes, for example.

“If oceans get warmer but wind shear increases, you could get offset effects for things like hurricanes,” he notes.

More research is needed to understand just how climate change will affect New York, especially at the county and local levels, but Zarzycki is confident that most places in the northeast will indeed see an increase in the frequency of extreme rainfall.

“It’s just a matter of how much it increases,” he says.