Five takeaways for Ohio from the National Climate Assessment
The National Climate Assessment is a federal, research-based report on climate change and its impacts, risks, and responses across the country. This evaluation is the culmination of years of work by nearly 500 authors and 250 contributors. Their analysis of national and international data paints a picture of what climate change will look like over time. The report divides the image area by region.
“We’re trying not to look at data for the entire world, as is sometimes reported, but what is the data for the United States and what is the real data like the Ohio Valley, the Great Lakes, the state of Ohio?” “So, we take all these computer models and scenarios with different outcomes and projections, and we try to boil them down to potential impacts,” said Jim Noel, co-author and NOAA Services Coordination Hydrologist.
The Fifth National Climate Assessment, published this month, projects that climate change will be felt most acutely in Ohio’s temperatures and water systems: from the impact of variable precipitation on merchandise and agriculture industries to changes in water quality to the disproportionate impact on communities suffering From lack of services.
Changes in rainfall patterns
The assessment predicts that the Midwest will experience two periods of increasingly heavy rainfall and rapid drying.
As the planet warms due to climate change, precipitation could increase by 2-3% for every degree of warming, according to the PBS Weatherd series. A warmer climate means a warmer atmosphere capable of absorbing more water, creating periods of drought and dry conditions, and expelling more water resulting in heavy rains and floods.
Annual precipitation increased between 5% and 15% across the Midwest from 1992 to 2021, according to the assessment, and scientists expect more frequent fluctuations between wet and dry conditions in the region as a whole.
“For example, like this year, we had a May with almost no rain throughout almost all of Ohio. There were some pockets, but it was very dry,” Noel said. “That’s the severity we’re talking about. We see it in trends and we see it in forecasts.
This could cause water levels in Lake Erie to fluctuate, which could slow down our water shipping channels, Noel said. This may lead to a gradual impact on the region’s economy.
“If the water years are low, it could slow down the movement of international cargo ships through this system,” he said. “It’s the old saying: … if you change something, you’ll have consequences downstream.”
Rainfall variability is expected to impact the agricultural industry statewide. Small changes in temperature, precipitation and wind patterns can put stress on crops and affect productivity, Noel said.
““In the last 20 years, the fall harvest has had its challenges because you have to be able to get to the fields,” Noel said. “When the fields get muddier during what should be a drier time of the year — our rainfall pattern from mid-September to mid-November is usually the driest part of the year — that’s also when we harvest crops.“
The weather is warmer
The National Climate Assessment predicts warmer winters with less intense snowstorms. These temperature changes will impact recreation that relies on snowy conditions, said Aaron Wilson, state climatologist and president of the Midwest Chapter.
“We’re thinking about Geauga County, Chardon and other areas that have historically had a Lake Erie influence. (There are) cultural connections to that and historical connections to that.”
On the other hand, summers in Ohio will be hotter as well. Just this summer, areas like the Miami Valley have seen heat advisories rise, and cooling centers have opened across the state as a resource for those looking to beat the extreme heat.
The evaluation indicates that overheating can lead to problems such as upper respiratory effects, hospitalization, and even death.
Warmer weather in nearby areas can also have ripple effects. Last June, the air quality index reached over 200 in the Dayton area due to smoke from Canadian wildfires, a rating that deemed the air unsafe for everyone.
“This was something we decided to put into our classroom long before last summer. We are affected by things that happen in what we might think are remote locations. But this just shows how interconnected climate change is across the landscape,” Wilson said.
Rising temperatures, coupled with periodic droughts, are expected to increase the risk of wildfires in the Midwest, potentially bringing wildfire smoke and deteriorating air quality closer to home.
Unjust impacts of climate change
According to the report, climate change does not affect all people equally. Low-income communities and communities of color tend to be more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to things like systemic discrimination and lack of investment in those communities.
“Climate (change) is a threat multiplier. It exacerbates existing conditions, whether they be economic, socio-economic or political,” Wilson said. “All of those things can make it a little more difficult to solve.”
The impacts of those warmer, more volatile wet and dry conditions expected in Ohio tend to be magnified in lower-income communities and communities of color, which tend to lack things like efficient infrastructure and green spaces to prevent things like flooding and warmer temperatures.
Urban areas like Dayton, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus have the potential to become heat islands, a term used to describe communities that experience higher temperatures than their surrounding neighborhoods.
According to the report, communities like these can become up to 12 degrees hotter during a heatwave than neighboring wealthier communities due to inequality.
““One of the things we’ve learned is that the (biggest) impact on humans is nighttime low temperatures above 80 degrees,” Noel said. “This is very impressive, especially if you don’t have air conditioning.“
Disruption of ecosystems and deterioration of water quality
Climate change plays a role in damaging ecosystems and losing biodiversity.
According to the report, warmer temperatures alone cause species to migrate or disappear altogether, and along the Great Lakes, warmer waters and changes in ice cover could lead to an increase in recurrent invasive species that can reduce water quality and create more toxins.
More heavy rain means increased stormwater runoff that can pick up fertilizer, litter and other pollutants that can end up in the Ohio River, Lake Erie and other bodies of water.
It’s runoff that contributes to harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie as well. This summer’s blooms were found at Caesar’s Creek and CJ Brown Reservoir in the southwestern part of the state.
“Extreme runoff events put a wide range of things into our water system, which then, with a combination of sunlight and warm temperatures, allows these types of things to grow,” Noel said.
Algae blooms pose a threat to waterways and can affect the quality of water coming from aquifers. It may not be safe to swim in those bodies of water and can make fresh water consumption dangerous if pollution levels become too high.
More rain and flooding could also lead to more standing water, Noel said. When combined with mild winters, the region may see an increase in tick and mosquito populations, along with a sharp rise in diseases such as Lyme disease and mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile virus and yellow fever.
Where do I go from here?
The report begins by emphasizing the importance of actions taken today to help mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
He highlighted a success story in Ashtabula where wetland restoration helped restore habitats displaced by industrial development on the lakefront, while reviving recreational and tourism opportunities in the area.
The state’s H2Ohio Initiative leads statewide efforts to restore and maintain safe and healthy waterways throughout the state.
Although there are other success stories across the country highlighted in the report, Wilson said no single project is enough to fix the problem.
“There is no single silver bullet that can really build resilience, whether it is water, agriculture or health,” he said. “There is no single engagement (with this report) that I think will be enough.”