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Impacts of Climate Change in New York

Already happening, but it's not too late

New York's ClimAID study (see link on right) includes both observations of impacts already occurring and projections of impacts expected later this century.

Observable Impacts

Recent climate assessments have identified some key impacts of climate change that already have begun in New York and the northeastern U.S.:

  • Annual average temperatures have been rising in New York for a century. The fastest increase has occurred since 1970, with state average temperatures rising by approximately 2.4º F and winter warming exceeding 4º F.
  • Winter snow cover is decreasing and spring comes (on average) a week or so earlier than it did a few decades ago; in many areas of New York, blooming dates have advanced by as much as 8 days.
  • How climate chagne affects New YorkThe ranges of birds that traditionally breed in New York have moved northward by as much as 40 miles in the past two decades.
  • Average nighttime temperatures have risen faster than daytime temperatures and are measurably higher than they were in 1970.
  • Summer heat waves are more intense, with heat-related illness and death projected to increase.
  • Intense precipitation events (heavy downpours) are occurring more often.
  • Sea levels along New York's ocean coast are approximately a foot higher than in 1900.
  • Vector-borne infections and diseases spread by mosquitoes and ticks, such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease, are becoming more widespread throughout New York. Current changes in temperature and precipitation favor the survival of insects and other disease vectors.

Projected Impacts

Carbon dioxide and other important GHGs remain in the atmosphere for decades or even centuries, guaranteeing continued climate change even after emissions start to decline. With no global reduction of GHG emissions yet in sight, scientists project that the earth will retain increasing amounts of heat and climate change will persist and intensify.

  • By mid-century, New York's winter temperatures are projected to rise by another 2.5º F to 4º F, and summer temperatures by 1.5º F to 3.5º F, setting us up for heat waves and other extreme weather that is beyond previous experience.
  • Current global emissions of GHGs could result in sea levels along New York's ocean coast rising by up to 31 inches by the 2050s due to expansion of warming seawater and melting of land ice. Sea level would rise less if greenhouse gas emissions begin to decline soon, but will continue to rise for some time even if GHG emissions cease.
  • More frequent and intense flooding from extreme rains and storm surges will threaten public safety and damage developed areas, roadways and other infrastructure, as well as natural systems and protective barriers.
  • Following a pattern already becoming evident, short-term droughts are expected to increase in frequency, with weeks of dry conditions punctuated by rains too intense for parched soils to absorb.
  • Winter snow cover will likely be reduced enough to affect the recreation industry.
  • Soil erosion will increase and replenishment of drinking water sources will become less reliable as snowpack dwindles and more rainwater is lost to runoff.
  • Some cool-weather plants and animals that have traditionally lived in New York (such as sugar maples and some marine species) may move northward to a cooler climate.
  • Mosquitoes and other pests may become more abundant. It is not difficult to imagine the disruption and economic costs if even one of these projected climate change impacts comes to pass. Increased warming, however, would likely set off impacts throughout New York's environment, economy and society.

Both extreme events and everyday risks raise our vulnerability

Not only extreme events, but also any change from the predictable and moderate conditions of the past can interfere with accustomed activities and create new risks. The changes discussed below have been observed in New York and are projected to continue.

Rising sea levels: Mid-range projections (25 to 75 percent likelihood) of sea-level rise along New York's coast are 18 to 50 inches in this century. Such high levels would greatly intensify the danger and damage from storm-related flooding.

Image of changes in snow cover from historic area to anticipated late-century areaWarmer temperatures: Long, intense heat waves raise health risks for human and animal populations. Warm winters and hot summers will likely lower the productivity of temperature-sensitive agricultural products like maple syrup, apples and dairy. Warmer weather also favors disease carriers and pests.

New precipitation patterns: Heavy precipitation is expected to fall more frequently, and there may be a trend toward longer-lasting events that compound the damage. Similarly, persistent shortages of precipitation can be expected more often. Such shortages can lower field crop yields and reduce the amount of water available for drinking, irrigation and hydropower.

Weather variability: Unusual weather not only inconveniences people, but also disrupts natural cycles. For instance, warm spells in late winter can make plants bud and bloom early. Young leaves and flowers are vulnerable to severe damage if temperatures later swing back below freezing; early blooms may be gone before the arrival of birds or insects that pollinate and feed on them.

Map of shift in forest composition based on greenhouse gas emission scenariosOur Climate Future

Some of the GHGs emitted today will remain in the atmosphere for centuries. So today's GHG emissions are shaping the climate that next-century New Yorkers will experience - just as emissions up until now are affecting our friends, neighbors, and children today. These emissions have already locked in some impacts and the costs for adapting to new conditions.

If we reduce emissions in the near future, future risk from climate change will be lower. Failure to reduce emissions now will compound future change, making impacts even more disruptive and costly.

More about Impacts of Climate Change in New York:

  • Sea Level Rise - Assessed impacts to the state's coastlines from rising seas and developed recommendations for protective and adaptive measures. The Task Force delivered its final report to the Legislature on December 31, 2010.
  • Climate Change and Health - This page provides offsite links to other state and federal agencies that address the effect of climate change on public health.