Over the past decade, the changing climate has contributed to an increase in the number of extreme weather events throughout the world. New York State is no exception. Here, we rely on plentiful water resources to provide our necessities such as agriculture, energy, and drinking water. However, this makes New York particularly vulnerable to these drastic weather conditions. The effects of climate change upon our community cannot be ignored.
Last month, the New York Attorney General’s Office released a report prepared by the office’s Environmental Protection Bureau entitled Current and Future Trends in Extreme Rainfall Across New York State. This report discusses the frequency and intensity with which New York has been hit with extreme rainfall in recent years, the projected escalation of heavy rainfalls in the near future, and measures which state and local governments can take to increase their resilience during extreme rainfall events.
The Attorney General’s report identifies 10 rain events in the past 5 years in which between 6 and 14 inches of precipitation fell within a 24-hour period. As a point of reference, generally 2 inches of precipitation falling within 24 hours is considered heavy rainfall. These “lesser” heavy rainfalls (in the 2 inches per 24 hours range) have also been increasing in frequency since the mid-1990s. The National Climate Assessment’s 2014 study predicts that these trends will continue, and that we can expect natural disasters with greater regularity and altered weather patterns associated with climate change.
As this report recognizes, much of the state’s critical infrastructure and land use regulation relies on outdated climate data. This is dangerous, because reliance on inaccurate rainfall data can result in adequate design of structures, such as bridges and roads, among other problems.
The detrimental effects of increased precipitation have been felt throughout the state, from Long Island to the Capital District to Western New York. New York was ill-equipped to deal with the effects of the hurricanes, tropical storms, and tornadoes that swept through the region. Damage caused by these extreme weather events includes flooding, power loss, destruction of infrastructure and private property, flooded riverbanks, erosion, tree fall, damage to drinking water reservoirs, and in some cases, injury and even death.
The next time the state is hit with severe weather conditions, Attorney General Schneiderman wants us to be prepared. The Attorney General’s report recommends incorporating resiliency planning and response measures, and considering current and projected rainfall trends in design of the built environment. It also takes a strong stance on the need for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, both through clean energy use within the state and through advocacy beyond state lines. It is only by addressing the source of our climate change-causing pollution that the risks attendant on climate change can be lessened.