Saturday, February 20, 2021

DEP Climate Advisory Committee Meets Feb. 23 On Draft, Final Climate Impact Assessment - Flooding Is Highest Risk Hazard PA Faces

Climate Change Advisory Committee is scheduled to hold a virtual meeting on February 23 to hear a presentation on and discuss the draft, final 2021 Climate Impacts Assessment and an updated draft of the 2021 PA Climate Action Plan.

Impacts Assessment

The draft 2021 Climate Impacts Assessment is required by Act 70 of 2008 and was completed by Penn State, ICF Consultants, Hamel Environmental Consulting and DEP.

Key findings in the Assessment include--

-- Flooding is currently the highest-risk hazard facing Pennsylvania, and flood risks are projected to increase. At the same time, risks from increasing average temperatures and heat waves could rise to be as high as flooding is today by mid-century (see Table 1).

     -- Flooding from heavy rain events affects built infrastructure, human health, and

agriculture, with ripple effects throughout the economy.

     -- Increasing average temperatures could affect nearly every aspect of life in the

Commonwealth, from infrastructure design to energy costs, recreational opportunities, agricultural practices, and the natural environment.

-- Heat waves will become increasingly common and will create particular health and economic risks for vulnerable populations, including low-income populations, the elderly, pregnant women, people with certain mental illnesses, outdoor workers, and those with cardiovascular conditions. These risks will be particularly acute in areas subject to the urban heat island effect.

-- All hazards—especially heat waves, increasing temperatures, and flooding—could affect public health negatively. For example, higher temperatures mean more days with hazardous heat conditions or reduced air quality, and increased risk of heat-related illness.  Flooding increases the risks of direct injury from flood waters and of illness caused by contaminated water.

-- Climate change will not affect all Pennsylvanians equally. Some may be more at risk because of their location, income, housing, health, or other factors. As Pennsylvania works to reduce its climate risks, it should also take care that these inequitable impacts are addressed, and that adaptation efforts do not inadvertently exacerbate inequities.

-- Landslides and sea level rise pose relatively low risks statewide but can cause severe impacts in the locations where they occur. For example, sea level rise in the Delaware estuary could drastically change the makeup of the estuary’s ecology and also threaten the built infrastructure near the tidal zone. Landslides can have severe consequences if they cut off critical transportation routes, particularly in rural areas.

-- Severe tropical storms, flooding, and landslides already pose risks, and these could become more likely or severe in the future. Pennsylvania has an opportunity to build on its existing hazard mitigation practices for these risks.

-- For changes that will come on gradually, such as rising temperature, Pennsylvania has an opportunity not only to reduce potential harm, but also to capitalize on potential positive changes. This is particularly true for rising average temperature, which could enable the cultivation of warmer-weather crops, expand warm-weather recreation and tourism, and lower wintertime heating energy demand.

Heavy Precipitation Events Increase 

Consistent with findings from prior assessments, extreme rainfall events are projected to increase in magnitude, frequency, and intensity as the century progresses. 

The amount of rainfall during “extremely heavy” precipitation events (which occur less than 1 percent of the time) is projected to rise – a 13 percent increase by mid-century and 20 percent increase by end-of-century.

The magnitude of precipitation during longer rain events will also increase. The annual maximum amount of precipitation during an annual 3-day precipitation event is projected to increase by 11 percent by mid-century and 16 percent by end-of-century. 

Overall, climate projections show a consistent and notable increase in the amount of rainfall during extreme precipitation events. 

Extreme rainfall events are projected to become more frequent; the number of days with 20 historical “very heavy” (17.2 mm - 0.67 inches- on average statewide) and historical “extremely heavy” (30.4 mm - 1.19 inches) precipitation amounts is projected to rise.

Pennsylvania is projected to experience 24 percent more days with observed baseline “very heavy” precipitation amounts and 42 percent more days with historical “extremely heavy” precipitation amounts by mid-century (compared to baseline). 

By end-of-century, the Commonwealth will see 36 percent more days with observed historical “very heavy” precipitation amounts and 67 percent more days with observed baseline “extremely heavy” precipitation amounts. 

The number of days with “very heavy” precipitation will increase across the State. The Southeastern corner of Pennsylvania will continue to experience the highest number of days with very heavy precipitation throughout the century.

This change is already occurring. Pennsylvania weather data shows that over 80 percent of cooperative observer program (COOP) sites surveyed by the state climatologist are seeing an increase in heavy rain events in the 2010s when compared to the 1980s.

Additionally, the number of days with more than 3 inches of rainfall is projected to increase by 52 percent by mid-century and 93 percent by end-of-century (compared to baseline).

Coastal Impacts

The report also estimates coastal impacts along the Delaware Estuary and Lake Erie.

Water levels in the Mid-Atlantic region and the Delaware Estuary are expected to rise by 2.1 feet by mid-century and 4.7 feet by the end of the century.

Along Lake Erie, Warmer temperatures and increased extreme precipitation events are anticipated to have substantial effect.

Lake Erie will be covered by less ice, and ice dunes that typically protect the Presque Isle’s beaches will experience greater erosion.

Higher lake water temperatures and greater runoff from the increased frequency of

extreme precipitation events will boost the likelihood of e-coli and

algal blooms and cause greater bluff instability as runoff erodes the bluff face.

Click Here for a copy of the draft, final Assessment

Climate Action Plan

Act 70 of 2008 also requires DEP to compile an annual greenhouse gas inventory and develop an action plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, Gov. Wolf issued Executive Order 2019-1 which established a goal of achieving a 26 percent reduction of net GHG emissions statewide by 2025 from 2005 levels, and an 80 percent reduction by 2050 from 2005 levels consistent with the Paris Climate Agreement.

The updated draft Plan says Pennsylvania may achieve its 2025 reduction goal, but will not meet the 2050 80 percent reduction goal from 2005 levels if the state continues in a “Business As Usual” mode.

Emissions are projected to increase slightly beyond 2025. 2050 emissions are projected to show a 26 percent decrease below 2005 levels with no policy changes. 

The projected decrease in emissions in 2050 is driven largely by lower emissions associated with electricity generation as a result of reduced electricity generation and lower-emitting fuel used to generate electricity as a result of the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards and the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is assumed in the draft Plan.

The updated draft Plan also includes an outline of recommendations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the goals.

Click Here for a copy of the updated draft Plan.

The Climate Change Advisory Committee meeting is scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m.  Click Here to register to attend the meeting via WebEx.  To attend via audio conference: +1-415-655-0003  Access code: 132 822 6327.

For more information and available handouts, visit DEP’s Climate Change Advisory Committee webpage.  Questions should be directed to Lindsay Byron by sending an email to:

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[Posted: February 21, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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