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Heat and storms: Northeast Ohio's warming climate

Doan Brook running full<br />A warmer climate will increase the probability of intense rainstorms and flooding.Erosion at Cleveland Metroparks South Chagrin Reservation<br />The increasing intensity of rainstorms will cause more erosion of local streams and more sediment pollution in Lake Erie. Plants moving north<br />The warming climate has pushed plant hardiness zones northward in recent years. Endangered habitat<br />As the climate warms, Northeast Ohio may lose plant species such as hemlocks, which can be found today  only in cool ravines like this one at Holden Arboretum.Soon to be extinct?<br />The warming climate could push the range of sugar maple trees out of Ohio.

The science is solid. Global surface temperatures are increasing because of rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These gases are being emitted in excess of natural systems by human activities, such as the burning of carbon-based fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas) and deforestation.

This warming has profound implications for human society. One of the biggest impacts will be rising sea levels as ice sheets melt and ocean waters warm and expand. In Ohio, the rising seas won’t affect us directly, but we will see many other impacts as the warming changes the climate and increases the chances of extreme weather.

According to a recent national assessment, here are the expected impacts in the Midwest:

  • During the summer, public health and quality of life, especially in cities, will be negatively affected by increasing heat waves, reduced air quality, and increasing insect and waterborne diseases. In the winter, warming will have mixed impacts.
  • The likely increase in precipitation in winter and spring, more heavy downpours, and greater evaporation in summer would lead to more periods of both floods and water deficits.
  • While the longer growing season provides the potential for increased crop yields, increases in heat waves, floods, droughts, insects, and weeds will present increasing challenges to managing crops, livestock, and forests.
  • Native species are very likely to face increasing threats from rapidly changing climate conditions, pests, diseases, and invasive species moving in from warmer regions.

Local public officials are already anticipating the threats. Public health agencies are preparing for more heat-related deaths and new insect-borne diseases. Water infrastructure agencies are expecting damage from more intense rainstorms and flooding. Water quality experts are concerned about water levels in Lake Erie. Air quality officials are worrying about increased smog during heat waves. Land managers are wondering if native plant species will be able to migrate north fast enough to survive.

Thus, while it might be tempting to wish for warmer winters in Northeast Ohio, climate change could bring a host of problems. To reduce the risks, we need to do our part to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming (mitigation strategies), and we need to prepare for the warming that is already going to happen (adaptation strategies). For discussions on what can be done, see the Sustainability Agenda pages for clean energy, green building, and transportation choices.

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