First installment of state climate assessment points to a warming Adirondacks
By Chloe Bennett
Part of a multi-year climate assessment on New York’s environmental future was released last week. In 2021, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) announced the assessment with an extensive group of researchers and participants. Projections and historical data indicating changes in temperature, precipitation, extreme weather and more were developed by scientists.
Climate projections were released by the authority and Columbia University last fall. The new document provides more details and implications of the data. None of the chapters will include policy recommendations, NYSERDA said.
According to the authority, the assessment team is wrapping up a technical report on proposed climate adaptation strategies across industry sectors including agriculture, transportation, energy and buildings. Ecosystems, human society, water resources and health are also on the list. Adirondack Explorer will continue covering the findings as they are released.
More heat waves could reach the Adirondacks
Researchers collected information from long-range weather stations across the state, including in Lake Placid. Historical data from 1981 to 2010 showed an average of one day a year over 90 degrees and zero days that tipped past 95 degrees. One heat wave every 10 years arose during the period. That frequency could change in the coming years.
Although the Adirondacks region is expected to remain the coolest in the state, days above 90 degrees will likely increase. Lake Placid is projected to experience 6 to 16 days per year above 90 by the 2050s and 12 to 45 days by the 2080s, the report reads.
Lake Placid is the coldest weather station studied in the assessment and was used frequently as an example in the study’s text. Other areas in the Adirondacks, including Dannemora, can expect more heat.
“Multi-day heat waves are expected to occur more frequently across New York State in the decades ahead,” the report reads. “By the 2080s, all stations are projected to have at least three heat waves each year.”
Extreme heat and humidity are linked to a rise in health risks and hospital visits. Like the rest of the East, New York has high humidity which makes sweating a less effective way to cool the body down. Implementing technologies like heat pumps could help cool buildings and people in the future, as the systems have both heating and cooling features.
In 2023, a center for renewable energy and home efficiency resources was introduced to the Adirondacks through the Adirondack North Country Association and NYSERDA.
“Adirondack residents might feel really uncertain and worried about the impacts climate change will have on our region and our way of life,” said Erin Griffin, ANCA’s North Country Clean Energy Hub director. “It’s important for people to know they can take relatively simple steps that can make their homes and businesses more comfortable and energy-efficient.”
Changes to cold temperatures will be substantial, the report says. Historically, the Lake Placid weather station documented 33 days below zero on average. In the 2050s, just 9 to 15 days are expected to be below zero.
Days plunging past freezing will also decrease, the researchers project, with a loss of 39 to 68 days below 32 degrees.
Heavier rain and fewer snow days are likely
The Adirondacks will see more precipitation fall from the sky, but it’s likely most of it will not be snow.
In Lake Placid, the researchers found a long-term decrease in snowfall. “Snowfall, depth, extent, and water equivalent are projected to decrease across New York State,” the report states. “The snow season is projected to become compressed, with more precipitation falling as rain, including some lake-effect precipitation.” Lake-effect precipitation generally happens near the Great Lakes.
While winter and spring precipitation are expected to increase, summer and fall projections are less definitive.
Across the state, winter will see an increase of up to 21% by the 2050s and up to 31% in the 2080s.
Heavy rain, characterized by 2 inches of rain or more, will likely fall more frequently. In the Adirondacks, 2023 saw record-breaking rain in the summer and road closures from flooding in the winter. Melting snow from the rain, while a critical process for local ecosystems, can exacerbate flooding and water damage.
Extreme weather and repair costs could increase
Statewide, the scientists project major flooding previously called once in a 100-year event will increase. Southern and eastern regions of the state will likely experience the most rain, the report says.
Some flood maps used to assess insurance costs were updated in the Adirondacks in 2023, and more are expected in the coming year. Many of the flood zone maps were decades old, the Explorer has reported.
Costly repairs from climate-related disasters like extreme flooding are rising. Damages from last year’s climate events surpassed previous records with a $92.9 billion price tag, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The latest data was available in January, but the agency acknowledged that the East’s December flooding could expand the total.
Droughts spanning multiple years like those in the West are not projected in New York. Though more seasonal droughts, lasting between several weeks or months, are possible in the coming decades.
Still, wildfires are unlikely to ramp up in the Adirondacks. Even under the highest greenhouse gas emissions scenario, the researchers reported, the projected change in annual wildfires is low.
Lakes are expected to continue to warm and ice-ins will lag
Lakes in New York are likely to experience more warming and even heat waves in the coming decades. The researchers found that rivers and streams may offset warming from higher air temperatures with increased precipitation and water volume.
Four Adirondacks lakes were highlighted in the assessment with later ice-in days. Since 1903, Mirror Lake in Lake Placid has seen a freeze date 11 days later on average. Its thaw data has shifted too, to nearly a week earlier.
Data from the Ausable River Association show a longer lag, with Mirror Lake’s ice-in date 17.8 days later on average. The organization took over maintaining the lake’s records in 2015.
Lake George and Lower Saint Regis have thaw dates a week earlier than first documented in 1903 and 1909. Lake Champlain’s ice cover records date back to the 1800s, the report states. Champlain has more ice-free days than in decades past.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with the correct ice-in dates for Mirror Lake from the Ausable River Association and historical temperature data.
Photo at top courtesy of Brendan Wiltse