No Region is Immune from Climate Change, Even So-Called Climate Havens

The Western New York region “is being perceived as a climate refuge or climate haven,” says Dr. Susan Spierre Clark, assistant professor in the department of environment and sustainability at the University at Buffalo. However, that moniker does not mean that Western New York cities like Rochester and Buffalo are exempt from being impacted by climate change, she cautions.

 “Although our region is often considered less vulnerable to climate-related threads happening in other areas of the nation, like wildfire, drought, and sea-level rise,” she says, “Western New York is getting warmer and there are significant consequences associated with that for the region.”

Warmer Temps Mean More Moisture

The average 2.3-degree temperature increase reported for the Great Lakes region between 1951 and 2017, Clark says, has so far resulted in several consequences. Among them, the frost-free season (a.k.a. the growing season) is now 16 days longer, she says, the total amount of precipitation has increased, although that precipitation now consists of more rain and less snow, and the number of heavy precipitation events is also increasing.

Clark explains “as the globe warms, our atmosphere warms, [and] it can hold more moisture.” This occurrence “enhances the water cycle. As temperatures rise, you also have more evaporation, so there’s more water in our atmosphere, so you get more precipitation.” The impact of this moisture is more flooding and more damage associated with it.

Increased Extreme Weather

In Western New York, that increased precipitation can come in the form of lake effect snow, which is somewhat unique to the Great Lakes region, of which Western New York is a part.

When a cold air mass passes over a warmer Lake Erie or Lake Ontario, that lake warmth “enhances the amount of snow that you’re going to get out of that system,” Clark explains. In the short term, Western New York can expect more lake effect snow.

In the long term, however, the climate is expected to warm to the point that there will be less snow altogether across the region.

Higher winds are another result of stronger low-pressure systems in a warmer climate, Clark says, a result of “more energy in the system.” When thunderstorms come through, “we’re seeing higher winds associated with those storms,” she says, making the area more prone to power outages.

Although some experts claim Western New York is less vulnerable to climate change, Clark states that the area may not be less vulnerable, but “the types of vulnerabilities you see will be different.”