Adapt & Thrive — Preparing for the effects of climate change in the Buffalo-Niagara/WNY Region
Global warming is controversial, yet its undeniable effects make for a modern conundrum. Reversal is impossible in the foreseeable future and mitigation alone is only appeasement. Smart, sustainable adaptation is imperative and will be necessary well before there will be relief due to reducing greenhouse gases. Our responsibility to future generations is a responsibility to both prevent what global warming can still be prevented, and to prepare for the effects that are certain to impact us no matter how well we do with mitigation.
Bringing preparedness to the Buffalo-Niagara Region presents an opportunity to thrive, not just survive if we prepare both our physical and societal infrastructure, and continue to build on the revitalization it is already experiencing. A once Queen City could be so again in a region that will be one of the most livable in the country.
Designing to Live Sustainably (d2ls) knows that just recognizing WNY is well positioned to adapt and thrive in the effects of climate change would not in itself be enough. In order to prepare for them we need to know what to prepare for. The current National Climate Assessment aggregates a Northeast region of 13 states and the District of Columbia. This assumption of common large-scale climatic occurrences is negligent of local differentiations in contributing factors. Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Southern Tier topography heavily influence our climate and drastically separate WNY from the amassed Northeastern region, all otherwise landlocked or oceanside.
Thus, we are leading an initiative to develop a Buffalo-Niagara Regional Climate Model, starting with Weathering Change in WNY.
Two climate-related products have been produced − a first step in developing a more elaborate regional model. Collaborating with Dr. Stephen Vermette, a climatologist with the Department of Geography & Planning at SUNY Buffalo State, we have delineated an 8-county Buffalo-Niagara/WNY Region, and further, described five climate zones within the region for more detailed effects. Using a trend analysis approach − a look at where climate may take us in the future − we have taken a first step towards understanding our regional climatic responses, and non-responses, to global warming.
The most notable trends are increases in several important variables: annual average daily temperature (primarily night time temperatures), length of the growing season, thunderstorm wind speed, Lake Erie surface water temperature. Precipitation, drought and severe weather fall into the opposite non-responsive category of ‘no significance’.
Understanding regional climatic responses is critical in developing resilience adaptation strategies for the WNY community. The study is also advantageous to industry in identifying potential growth opportunities based on regional climatic shifts. This small-scale assessment is in general very conducive and contributive to more accurate information-based decision-making in the WNY region.
To view the full versions of these two products, see WNY’s 5 Climate Zones and Weathering Change in WNY: Climatic Trend Analysis(1965-2016).
The trends analysis is a precursor to the next phase of the initiative, downscaling to a high-resolution 1 km X 1 km modeling of the 8-county region, with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping overlays of built environment, infrastructure, land use, soil profiles, water resources, topography and afforestation. This high-resolution modeling with GIS mapping overlays will provide tools for assessing specific effects on very relatable geographic footprints. These can be applied to the following areas of concern and opportunity.
–People and Demographics e.g., vacant lots and blighted property best suited for new development; those best earmarked for green uses; locations of climate vulnerable populations (elderly, low income, etc.).
—Physical Infrastructure e.g., where green infrastructure can and should be prioritized in order to reduce storm water surges; sites best suited for solar arrays and wind turbines; best choices of building materials; electrical micro grids.
—Ecology e.g., in urban areas, unbuilt environment that can be preserved to lessen the urban heat island effect; outside of urban areas, where best to preserve and augment valuable natural resources.
—Agriculture e.g., climate modeling will show us shifts in agriculture growing zones best suited for a particular genre of agricultural crops, or natural vegetation. Aiding in preparation for the changing growing season, and future crop choices. Best sites for new agricultural businesses.
—Economy e.g., identification of locations for new businesses that are best suited to their genre and give the best opportunity for success.
—Public Health e.g. facilities, remediation and waste disposal sites that are most vulnerable to severe weather and prioritize their upgrade. Locations of susceptible populations to extreme heat.
—Organized Governmental Services e.g., locations to prioritize for emergency services in case of disaster, in-depth analysis tool for further strategic planning.
—Supply Chain Resiliency e.g., identify sectors in which we can develop supply chain resiliency. The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability in the supply chain, not only on the global scale, but within the USA; a vulnerability that was already being exposed by the effects of extreme weather on both the production and delivery of goods and services.
The physical effects of global warming will impact everyone, from the most prominently successful businesses to those needing the most help to emerge from inequality. We can adapt and thrive only if we respect that and we apply judicious planning that includes everyone. If we don’t include that in our work, taking our responsibility to future generations to heart, the now disadvantaged will become even more disadvantaged. If we do plan judiciously and prepare accordingly, we will help end the inequality.