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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

More Heat, Rain and Flooding on the way for the Eastern U.S.

Does the weather seem different today than when you were a kid? 

That’s not surprising.

In Pennsylvania, for example, the mean average temperature has risen about 2°F over the last century. That may not seem like much, but small average temperature changes can make a big difference in the weather that we experience where we live.

And our climate is getting hotter, faster.

By 2100, summers in Harrisburg, PA, which now average high temperatures of about 83° F, are predicted to be more like summers in San Antonio, TX. Down by the Alamo, summer days hit a high of 94° F on average.

And by the next century, summers in Boston (79°F) will be more like summers in North Miami Beach, FL (89°F).

The blanket effect of greenhouse gases

It feels like the tropics are marching north. This is due mostly to the warming of earth’s climate brought on by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Most greenhouse gases come from burning fossil fuels to produce energy, although deforestation, industrial processes and some agricultural practices also send gases into the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases act like an invisible blanket around the Earth, trapping energy in the atmosphere and causing it to warm.  

We talk a lot about warming, and it’s true that it’s happening. But the changing climate’s impact on states like Pennsylvania also involves rain and flooding, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Let’s examine each of those three factors below.

A Closer Look: The warming of Pennsylvania

This graph charts projected temperatures for Pennsylvania into the next century. Notice the higher temperatures if fossil fuel emissions increase. Source: Kenneth Kunkel, Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites - NC.

The greater the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the higher the temperatures, as seen in the above graphic. Even if we can cut emissions, it’s still likely to get hotter than average, just not as hot.

Pennsylvania has already suffered through several recent heat waves. One of the worst hit on July 22, 2011. On that day, most of the state saw the thermometer climb above 95°F, with many locations sweltering above 100°F. The residents of Reading, PA, will remember that date’s all-time daily high of 106°F.

Remember that song, “Summer in the City,” with its line, “Hot town, summer in the city, back of my neck getting dirty and gritty”? Warmer temperatures will mean even sweatier summers to come, especially in densely populated urban areas. Big cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh can expect to see more days of dangerous heat and humidity. That’s because of the so-called urban heat-island effect, where fewer trees and more heat-absorbing surfaces like asphalt combine to raise summertime temperatures.

The overall warming in Pennsylvania is not confined to summers. In fact, the bigger difference has been in the winter and spring. For example, there have been fewer very cold nights—the sub-zero kind where it hurts to breathe outdoors. While heat waves are projected to increase, forecasters predict fewer and less-intense cold waves.

It’s a wet, wet world

Pennsylvania has already seen a lot more rain. And, since generally warmer climates allow for more moisture, more rain is predicted. Scientists predict that heavier winter and spring precipitation will raise the risk of springtime flooding along rivers and streams.

The five most recent five-year periods in Pennsylvania have seen above-average precipitation. Source: Kenneth Kunkel, Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites - NC

Flooding also will be a problem in coastal areas. Sea levels around the globe have risen by about 8 inches since 1880. They are projected to swell by another 1 to 4 feet by 2100. And that will bring more frequent, extensive and severe coastal flooding up the Delaware Bay and the tidal reaches of the Delaware River into the Philadelphia riverfront. In fact, under some scientific models in which greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, by the end of this century, tidal flooding wouldn’t just happen every now and then. It would happen every day.

We Can Turn the Tide

Whether you live in Pennsylvania or another state, we all can lower the risks from climate change. By taking small actions, you can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help clean the air, protect the climate—even save money and improve your health! The U.S. Environmental Protection Administration offers more than 25 easy green steps you can take at home, school and the office and on the road.

Of course, one proven way to make a difference is by switching to non-polluting, clean sources of electricity. If you are not already a customer of CleanChoice Energy, check out the benefits of 100 percent renewable power here. Or sign up today!

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