Harrisburg, PA (STL.News) Pennsylvania’s average temperature will be 5.9° F higher by midcentury, with significant consequences for the health and safety of Pennsylvanians, especially those living in Environmental Justice communities, and for ecosystems, agriculture and other areas, according to Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment 2021, released today by the Wolf Administration.
The departments of Environmental Protection (DEP), Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and Agriculture will hold a virtual news conference at 3:00 PM. Reporters must RSVP here. The event may be viewed live via WebEx and on DEP’s Facebook page.
“On our current path, the Pennsylvania our children and grandchildren inherit will be very different from the one we grew up in and continue to enjoy today,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “We simply cannot afford to ignore the warning signs, and this report underscores the critical need to take action to reduce emissions and do our part to address climate change.”
Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment 2021 uses federal, state, and local data to show the trend of rising temperatures and increasing rainfall and project how it will continue into midcentury (2041-2070) and beyond, if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t reduced. The extent of impacts, from limited to catastrophic, is projected for numerous aspects of life in Pennsylvania.
Rising average temperature and increased occurrences of heatwaves and heavy rainfall events are the three highest-risk climate changes. Compared to a 1971-2000 baseline, the statewide average annual temperature is projected to be 5.9° F hotter by midcentury.
More heat waves will occur, with the average number of days over 90° F each year increasing to 37 days and, in some areas, 60 days by midcentury, compared with 5 days annually in 1971-2000. It’s projected that at least 10 days per year will be hotter than 95° F by midcentury, compared with an average of one day annually in 1971-2000.
An 8 percent increase in precipitation by midcentury is projected, primarily in the form of more frequent heavy and extreme rainfall events. Average annual precipitation was 44 inches in 1971-2000. This is projected to increase to 47 inches by mid-century, with winter and spring seasons becoming warmer and wetter. While overall it may rain less frequently, it’ll rain more often than snow and it’ll rain more intensely causing localized flooding events, landslides, and impacts to infrastructure.
Inland flooding and coastal sea level rise will result. Water levels on the 56-mile coastline along the Delaware estuary are expected to rise 2.1 feet by mid-century. In Lake Erie, water levels will fluctuate, from low levels to record high levels, such as seen in 2019.
“Data show that Pennsylvania’s average temperature has been rising, heavy rainfall events are increasing, and these climate changes will continue with considerable impact on our lives and economy by midcentury,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “Reducing greenhouse gas pollution must be done quickly to stave off the most dire impacts of climate change. The Wolf administration is leading by example to reduce these harmful emissions. By specifying areas where climate change impacts are projected to be greatest, the Climate Impacts Assessment enables government, business, and community leaders to prioritize adaptation actions.”
Pennsylvanians’ health is assessed to be at catastrophic risk from heat waves. The cause of most weather-related fatalities in the United States, heat waves can lead to heat exhaustion, dehydration, and heat stroke. This will have major impacts on Pennsylvanians who primarily work outside in the summertime. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cautions that worker heat protection measures should be taken if temperatures exceed 91? F.
In addition, people who have underlying health conditions, have limited access to air conditioning, or live in urban areas will have increased risk of heat-related health conditions. Exercising outdoors will also become more hazardous.
Pennsylvanians who live in Environmental Justice areas will be at additional critical risk from rising average temperatures. Residents in Environmental Justice areas are nearly twice as likely to experience more days hotter than 90? F, compared to the state average, and constitute over half of all Pennsylvanians exposed to highly frequent heat days.
“Pennsylvanians who have lived in communities with almost a century of disinvestment now also face disproportionate risk from climate change impacts,” said DEP Environmental Justice Office Director Allison Acevedo. “People living in communities that have been disinvested and are ripe for resource development often face significant challenges that are exacerbated by climate change impacts. These challenges include living near industrial sites, living in older housing stock, often without air conditioning, and facing limited transportation options. Heat and extreme weather events caused by climate change can aggravate health conditions stemming from poor air quality and heat exposure.
“State and local leaders must work proactively and intentionally with communities and other partners to reduce the significant risks of climate change and cultivate resources, health supports, and other development in communities that disproportionately confront these critical climate issues.”
Pennsylvania’s recreation and tourism industries will be impacted by climate change. Forests, ecosystems, and wildlife are assessed to be at catastrophic risk from rising temperatures. Habitat for tree species that have the southern extent of their range in Pennsylvania will decrease, and habitat for species at the northern extent of their range in Pennsylvania will increase. Longer growing seasons and higher temperatures may increase overall forest growth rate, but this may be offset by increased mortality in stressed forest species.
Some plant and animal species will face multiple stresses, including decreased and fragmented habitat; an increased prevalence of pests and competitive invasive species; and disruptions to the timing of natural cycles, such as migration, emergence from dormancy or hibernation, and leaf development and blooming.
Species composition is likely to change as a result. Species with specific habitat needs, such as the Eastern hellbender, may not survive, while generalist species will better adapt.
“Our forests and natural areas that will be impacted by the effects of a warmer climate also are some of our best strategies for responding and adapting to climate change,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said. “It’s imperative that we support natural solutions including protecting and expanding forest land, streamside forests and urban trees for resiliency.”
Crop and livestock operations are assessed to be at critical risk from flooding, which will likely increase nutrient runoff and soil erosion and affect the timing of crop planting or harvest.
The extended rainfall in 2018 shows the prolific statewide crop damage that can result. Planting delays, repeated damage to planted fields, and the inability to harvest negatively affected crop and commodity producers and livestock producers who grow their own feed and forage. The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a disaster declaration for 33 Pennsylvania counties.
Significant costs are associated with the impacts of flooding and heavy precipitation on agricultural operations. Crop and animal production generates about $9.2 billion statewide and provides about 29 percent of employment in the agricultural sector.
“Farmers are stewards of the land and recognize the need for sustainable practices not only to take care of their business, but the place they call home,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “Extreme weather events lead to extreme economic loss. Our challenge is to think about on-farm best management practices, oftentimes already in place, and determine how they can further mitigate climate change to help both the environment and financial stability.”
Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment 2021 assesses the risk levels from rising heat and increased rainfall events for energy, infrastructure, and other areas as well. The risk assessment approach enables prioritization of adaptation actions to those areas and sectors expected to face the most serious impacts of climate change.
The impacts assessment, Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan, Local Climate Action Program, and other resources for climate leadership statewide are available at www.dep.pa.gov/climate.
The DEP Energy Programs Office, Penn State University, ICF Consulting, and Hamel Environmental Consulting partnered on Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment 2021, which was supported by grant funding from the U.S. Department of Energy through the State Energy Program.