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Extreme weather and climate change in Rochester


As temperatures change around the globe, more scientists are pointing to extreme weather events as a result. Rochester is no stranger to extreme weather, especially over the past few months. 

After the wind storm in early March, Governor Andrew Cuomo hinted at what could be the real reason behind it all; climate change.

University of Rochester assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences Lee Murray says Rochester is getting hotter.

"Since 1901 we've warmed about one degree Fahrenheit here in Rochester," said Murray. One degree over more than a hundred years may not seem like that much, but it has made summer days hotter, going from averaging 21 days above 85° since records started, to 26° days today.

A warmer Rochester is going to mean more evaporation and more evaporation is going to mean more rain in rainstorms. That is going to mean severe flooding in a warmer climate. Floods have increased across Western New York. This is not a trend that will be seen everywhere, but is a common trend for most of the United States.

From one extreme to the other, last years drought might have been a sign of things to come. "We have seen an increase in summertime drought in New York over the past 50 years. Our models suggest that will increase into the future, along with an increase in extreme heat waves," said Murray.

Last year, more than a quarter of the state was in extreme drought, a huge blow to farmers says New York State agriculture commissioner Richard Ball.

"We had a lot of dairy farms that had to resort to hauling water from off the farm," said Ball, "To their farm to keep their cattle alive. things like that, you cant do that forever." Ball and the state are not waiting for the problem to get worse and are moving forward with solutions.

"There'll be some funding to help them develop micro-irrigation systems and water sources," said Ball.

Farms are already feeling the pressure of a changing climate, but there is a glimpse of possible good news in Rochester.

Carbon dioxide is said to be one of the main drivers of climate change, and it also happens to be the main ingredient that plants use to grow. Many plants have actually boosted production of chlorophyll.

"You can see just a little bit of color starting over the last couple of days," said Mark Quinn, looking at some of the lilacs in Rochester. Quinn is the superintendent of horticulture in Monroe County.  They have tracked flowering dates that go all the way back to 1905.

"Not a lot of real strong trends except for the fact they bloom in mid-May. That is a pretty solid trend. if you look at what happened in 1932 or what happened in 1978, you're going to find these things bloom in mid-May." This flower is one of the most resilient local flora, and may not show signs of stress for years to come.

While the lilacs seem to remain unchanged, other plants have already shown to take real advantage of more carbon dioxide; those are weeds and problem plants like poison ivy and other invasive species. 

Rochester has seen a drop in amount of snow over the past 40 years, six inches in fact. the jury is still out on whether or not a warmer climate will impact lake effect snows.


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