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) knew 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 seventeen states and the District of Columbia. This assumption of common large-scale climatic occurrences is negligent of local differentiations in contributing factors. Western New York (WNY) is heavily influenced by Lakes Erie and Ontario, which drastically separates it 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 eight county Buffalo-Niagara/WNY Region, and further, described five climate zones within the region for more detailed downscaling of effects. And, 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.
Building the WNY climate zones began first by defining boundaries based on three climate controls: elevation, proximity to Lakes Erie or Ontario, and population density. Modeled climate data (PRISM data), using the 1981-2010 Normal, were superimposed over the controls to validate these boundaries and to define the climate within each zone. Individual station data were used to validate the modeled data. Lastly, the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones and severe weather frequencies, obtained from NOAA’s sever weather database, were used to further define the climate in each zone.
In order to better understand local climatic changes, this study narrows the scope to WNY alone and performs a spatial and temporal analysis of past trends. Climate data from 1965-2016 was thoroughly mined from qualitative recordings, quantitative databases, further subjected to averaging, both seasonal and annual, then graphed in a layered time series of raw data, a five-year moving average, and an accompanying derived linear trend line.
The Mann-Kendall test was applied as a parametric for determining statistically significant trends. 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 and severe weather fall into the opposite non-responsive category of ‘no significance’, and WNY will not experience the severity of droughts predicted in less advantaged areas. WNY’s response to a warming world appears to be chiefly seen as a rise in regional air temperature along with its related indices. 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.
One of the region’s comparative advantages is its positioning relative to much of the country regarding the effects of global warming, a changing climate (see U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters 2011-2017).
A distinctive feature of this initiative will be the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping overlays of afforestation, agriculture, hydrology, topography, infrastructure, and built environment with the high resolution model to:
–Provide an accessible tool to predict the debilitating structural impacts on infrastructure as a result of the geophysical effects of climate change. All levels of governance have infrastructure in WNY that will be impacted and should start acting now to ensure a high level of functionality.
—Encourage using more arable land for farming by identifying the most suitable, promising locations. The GIS mapping overpays on projected changes in the climate will facilitate planting the type of crops that will do best in the change. Plantings for what the climate will be in 10-50 years will be important.
—Evaluate the effects on the region’s human ecology—including public health—and plan resources allocations to best accommodate the growth in population while preserving the region’s natural resource base, notably the water and arable land.
—Promote the Buffalo Niagara Region and WNY as a great place for new businesses by making the case to locate here for its comparative natural advantages, including less impact form severe and catastrophic weather events.
—Prepare for the climate migrants we will experience from climate changes and catastrophic effects occurring outside our region. Buffalo and WNY have significant comparative advantages over other geographic areas which will attract migrants in increasingly significant numbers as climate events elsewhere become more frequent and severe.
—Plan for the changes in disease vectors, animal migration, invasive species.
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.