Big climate shif ts seen for state

New York’s fu­ture weather is pro­jected to be warmer, wet­ter and bug­gier, with neg­a­tive im­pacts rang­ing from pub­lic health to agri­cul­ture, win­ter recre­ation and shore­line in­fra­struc­ture

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Near­ing

The Amer­i­can fu­ture de­scribed in a re­cent fed­eral climate change re­port is omi­nous but sadly not sur­pris­ing to ex­perts in New York like Oliver Timm.

At 1,300 pages, the Na­tional Climate As­sess­ment re­leased last week says climate change by the end of the cen­tury will shrink the na­tional econ­omy by up to 10 per­cent, kill more peo­ple dur­ing heat waves, re­duce crop pro­duc­tion in the Mid­west and South­east, in­crease wild­fires as some por­tions of the coun­try dry out, ex­pose coastal cities to ex­treme floods and in­crease the spread of Lyme dis­ease and other in­sect-born ill­nesses.

The re­port im­me­di­ately be­came a po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy. Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump, whose ad­min­is­tra­tion re­leased the re­port on Black Fri­day over the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day week­end in an ap­par­ent bid to sup­press news cov­er­age, said last week that he did not “be­lieve” it since he trusted his “gut” in­stead. Trump has long in­sisted climate change is a hoax.

“While this re­port does not in­clude any ground­break­ing new dis­cov­er­ies, it brings to­gether all

the cur­rent sci­en­tific knowl­edge that we have,” said Timm, an as­so­ciate climate pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity at Al­bany’s Depart­ment of At­mo­spheric and En­vi­ron­men­tal Sciences.

“It looks at all the re­gions in the coun­try and de­scribes what the im­pacts will be,” said Timm. “It is very com­pre­hen­sive.”

Po­ten­tial for New York

The re­port says that if cur­rent trends con­tinue, New York’s climate will be warmer, wet­ter and bug­gier, with a ris­ing At­lantic Ocean threat­en­ing peo­ple and prop­erty along the state’s densely pop­u­lated shore­line, in­clud­ing along the tidally driven Hud­son River all the way to Troy.

There will be shorter win­ters, less snow, more and heav­ier rain­storms, au­tumns that last longer and springs that start ear­lier. Ski re­sorts and dairy farm­ers could face chal­lenges, while grow­ers of some crops, like grapes and soy­beans, could do bet­ter.

The av­er­age tem­per­a­ture in the lower 48 states is up about 1.2 de­grees Fahren­heit since the 1980s, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral re­port. That is ex­pected to in­crease by an­other 2.5 de­grees in com­ing decades “re­gard­less of fu­ture emis­sions.”

De­pend­ing on whether global green­house gas emis­sions are con­tained, po­ten­tial fu­ture in­creases by the end of the cen­tury could range from 3 to 12 de­grees, it added.

In New York, 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.

The fed­eral re­port was pro­duced with in­put from 13 dif­fer­ent fed­eral agen­cies, headed up by the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion, aided by dozens of vol­un­teer pri­vate sci­en­tists, like Shan­non Ladeau, an ex­pert on mosquitoand in­sect-borne ill­ness at the Cary In­sti­tute of Ecosys­tem Stud­ies in Westchester County.

“I don’t how you con­vince any­one who has cho­sen to ig­nore rig­or­ous and long-stand­ing sci­ence,” said Ladeau. “There is no doubt on the sci­ence that our Earth is get­ting warmer, and that hu­mans are the cause. There has not been any doubt on this in a long time.”

She added, “The un­cer­tainty now is not about whether there will be change. Whether it will be dras­tic change or cat­a­strophic change, de­pend­ing on what responses we make to green­house gas emis­sions.”

The bug fac­tor

Lyme dis­ease and other tick-borne dis­eases are surg­ing in New York as the in­sects, which pre­fer moist, warm con­di­tions, are ex­pected to con­tinue spread­ing in the North­east, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

In New York last year, there were 11,866 con­firmed cases of Lyme and three other ma­jor tick-borne dis­eases, up 32 per­cent from the year be­fore, ac­cord­ing to an­nual fig­ures re­cently re­leased by the state Health Depart­ment.

Lyme dis­ease ac­counted for about 80 per­cent of that to­tal, as the three other main dis­eases —anaplas­mo­sis, babesio­sis and ehrli­chio­sis — also con­tin­ued their steady climbs, state fig­ures showed.

This month, the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion re­ported a record num­ber of tick-borne dis­eases na­tion­wide in 2017 at 59,349, up 23 per­cent from the year be­fore. That re­port also warned that such dis­eases would likely con­tinue to in­crease, as ticks con­tinue to spread into new ar­eas.

Ear­lier, wet­ter springs and later falls in New York will mean ticks have more time to find hu­mans and other mam­mals to feed on, and will be able to live in more ar­eas, in­creas­ing the risk of dis­ease, said Ladeau. “As the tick season gets longer, there will be more time for the pop­u­la­tion to grow, and to spread,” she said.

The re­cent fed­eral re­port said tick season in the North­east, from Penn­syl­va­nia to Maine, could be as much as three weeks longer by 2065.

The out­look is sim­i­lar for mos­quito-borne dis­eases like West Nile virus, said Ladeau. The fed­eral as­sess­ment re­port said there could be as many as 490 ad­di­tional an­nual cases of West Nile virus by 2090, as mosquitoes thrive in a wet­ter, warmer North­east.

While the state had no part in the fed­eral re­port, En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sioner Basil Seg­gos said Pres­i­dent Trump tried to “bury” the doc­u­ment by re­leas­ing it late Fri­day on a hol­i­day week­end.

Seg­gos said that Pres­i­dent Trump “can no longer hide what we al­ready know: hu­man-caused climate change is ex­ac­er­bat­ing and in­creas­ing the fre­quency of cat­a­strophic for­est fires, hur­ri­canes, flood­ing, and harm­ful al­gal blooms, lead­ing to sig­nif­i­cant losses of life and eco­nomic costs in the hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars.”

‘Ex­treme’ rain­storms

While New York should con­tinue to warm, it likely does not face a “dooms­day sce­nario” of un­bear­able heat or un­end­ing drought from climate change, said Timm. But res­i­dents can ex­pect more ex­treme rain­storms, which can cause dan­ger­ous flash flood­ing, he said.

Warmer air holds more wa­ter va­por, which then pro­duces more rain. Un­til the 1990s, about 10 per­cent of the lower 48 states ex­pe­ri­enced “ex­treme” rain­storms, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral re­port. That fig­ure has been climb­ing since and is now close to 20 per­cent.

In­tense rain­storms in the North­east are be­com­ing more com­mon, ac­cord­ing to Ual­bany re­search.

Since 1997, there have been 724 storms of 2 inches or more, up 25 per­cent since the early 1980s. Rain­storms that drop 4 inches or more in­creased from 55 to 85, and storms of at least 6 inches, con­sid­ered very rare, in­creased from 6 to 24.

“Th­ese heavy rain events can have se­vere con­se­quences,” said Timm, “par­tic­u­larly when com­bined with snowmelt from the moun­tains dur­ing the spring.”

Dairy, ski, sea im­pacts

The state’s dairy in­dus­try could be chal­lenged by higher tem­per­a­tures, which make cows pro­duce less milk. Over­all out­put in the North­east could drop by a half-per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral re­port, which re­flects warn­ings that a Cor­nell Univer­sity ex­pert gave state law­mak­ers that heat stress is al­ready cost­ing dairy farm­ers about $25 mil­lion a year in lost pro­duc­tion and will likely in­crease over time.

Skiing in New York could be at risk. An­other fed­eral re­port ear­lier this year pro­jected nearly 250 re­sorts across the U.S. will see their sea­sons de­cline dra­mat­i­cally as nat­u­ral snow­fall lessens and warm­ing tem­per­a­tures di­min­ish con­di­tions needed for ma­chine-made snow. That re­port found New York could lose half of its ski season by mid­cen­tury.

Sea level rise, and the risk of in­creased storm surge that goes with it, will also con­front New York. The U.S. Army

Corps of En­gi­neers is cur­rently con­sid­er­ing plans to con­struct a mas­sive sea gate at the mouth of New York Har­bor.

State pro­jec­tions re­leased in 2015 fore­cast that the Hud­son River in Troy could rise from one to nine9 inches dur­ing the 2020s, be­tween 5 and 27 inches by the 2050s, and be­tween 10 and 54 inches by the 2080s.

By the time a child born in 2015 turns 85 in 2100, the river at Troy could be up as lit­tle as 10 inches —oras­muchas­nearly6 feet. Pro­jected in­creases were slightly larger far­ther south. In New York City by 2100 the sea could be be­tween 15 inches and 75 inches — just over 6 feet — higher than to­day.

Global warm­ing raises sea lev­els two ways — by melt­ing of glaciers and other ice and by warm­ing sea­wa­ter, which ex­pands. This cen­tury, sea level is up glob­ally by 8 inches.

The At­lantic Ocean has been steadily warm­ing and is up about 1.5 de­grees in the last two decades, the fed­eral re­port says.

Some mod­els es­ti­mate that by the end of this cen­tury, global sea level in­creases could range from 4 to 33 inches, de­pend­ing 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.

Warmer ocean wa­ter, an­other con­se­quence of climate change, helped cause a 2012 glut of lob­sters in the North­east, the re­port found. Be­cause of the warmer wa­ter in the ocean that year, there was an “ear­lier and larger lob­ster catch,” the re­port found, caus­ing a glut that made prices col­lapse and cut rev­enue for fish­er­men.

Timm said Trump and other climate change de­niers now “do not deny that the climate is warn­ing. Now they try to take away the cred­i­bil­ity of the mod­els, and claim that no­body agrees on what is dan­ger­ous.”

Timm also dis­puted con­spir­a­to­rial claims that sci­en­tists are mak­ing up climate change out of fi­nan­cial self-in­ter­est. “The sci­en­tists who aided in this re­port were not paid,” he said. “We are not do­ing this job for money, we do it be­cause we are cu­ri­ous and want to un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing to the climate.”

“We still have op­tions to change to the path­way to how our fu­ture will looks,” he added. “We can go with busi­ness as usual. Or we can con­vert to more re­new­able en­ergy. Our grand­chil­dren will ben­e­fit from that.”

“I don’t how you con­vince any­one who has cho­sen to ig­nore rig­or­ous and long-stand­ing sci­ence. There is no doubt on the sci­ence that our Earth is get­ting warmer, and that hu­mans are the cause. There has not been any doubt on this in a long time.” — Shan­non Ladeau, an ex­pert on mos­quito- and in­sect-borne ill­ness at the Cary In­sti­tute of Ecosys­tem Stud­ies in Westchester County

Paul Buck­owski / times union

By the end of this cen­tury the Hud­son river along the city of troy, seen here last week, could rise 10 inches higher — or by as much as 6 feet, ac­cord­ing to state pro­jec­tions.

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