Climate Change to Bring More Heat Waves, Floods to New York, Report Says

According to the new ClimAid report, the impacts of climate change are going to be felt broadly across New York. The Hudson River Valley, for example, could experience salt water contamination and see different tree varieties become more prominent. Credit: Flickr/P Donovan.

This year, New York has suffered through record snowstorms, heat waves, and floods. If 2011’s wild weather has people in the Empire State wondering if this is just a taste of what’s to come in the future, a new report has some discouraging answers.

According to the new ClimAID report, released Wednesday, New York State can expect more heat waves and drier summers, more heavy downpours, and more coastal flooding thanks to climate change. The warmer temperatures and changing precipitation will have dramatic impacts for the state’s environment, infrastructure and economy, the report says.

Just a few years ago, New York City released a report on how climate change will affect the city’s infrastructure. As average temperatures rise and heat waves increase, the city is expected to face more frequent blackouts and public health concerns. Sea level rise has put much of the city at flood risk during storms.

This new report covers the entire state, and focuses on what’s most vulnerable in several regions. For example, the report predicts that:

  • snowpack in the Adirondacks will shrink, which will affect the region’s winter tourism.
  • sea level rise could cause salt water to contaminate water supplies up the Hudson River, and could inundate wetlands and salt-marshes across Long Island.
  • longer, warmer growing seasons mean some traditional crops will suffer, but new ones may flourish (say goodbye to McIntosh and Empire apples, and hello to grapes well-suited to winemaking).
  • more frequent heatwaves will increase electricity demand and stress power supplies
  • more intense rainfall events will threaten subways and railways, and could increase devastating flash floods.

Sea level rise has already made New York City residents vulnerable to serious flooding during storms.

Overall, the warmer weather could also change the types of trees that thrive in the Hudson River Valley and affect which fish species will populate New York’s rivers, lakes and coastline, the report says.

The ClimAID report, compiled by researchers from Columbia University, Cornell University, and the City University of New York, bases its predictions on computer projections of how climate in New York will be affected by global climate change. It also points out that some of these changes are already happening. Average temperatures in New York are about 2.4 oF higher than they were 40 years ago, and sea levels around New York have risen a foot in the past century.

Cynthia Rosenzweig, one of the report’s lead authors and a climate scientist at Columbia’s Center for Climate Systems Research, wrote yesterday:

 “The climate is already changing. We have a responsibility to prepare for the increasing risks of the future.”

The report lists several ways the state can prepare for the coming climate changes: upgrade stormwater systems, develop plans to help preserve the state’s natural ecosystems, help farmers identify new ideal times to plant crops, and move or protect coastal infrastructure.

New York isn’t the only state to take a serious look at what the local impacts of climate change could be. Alaska, California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington have also published similar assessments.