Buffalo-style extreme weather could become the new norm, according to climate change study

Andrew Fazekas
A rainbow forms over a neighbourhood following a massive snow storm in West Seneca, New York November 24, 2014. Emergency workers filled thousands of sandbags on Sunday as the area around Buffalo, New York braced for potential flooding as warming temperatures began to melt up to seven feet (2 metres) of snow. REUTERS/Mark Blinch (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

After record snowfalls, Buffalo, New York is now bracing for a massive melt.

Some areas of the region received seven feet of the white stuff — a whole year’s worth in just a few short days.  And now officials are worried that with the temperatures rising dramatically, things may get even worse with massive flooding.  

Evacuation plans have been put into place and some Buffalo residents may be forced to flee if the flooding gets too severe.

Could this extreme and wild weather event be just another indicator of what some scientists are warning is the result of climate change?

Once-in-a-century type of events like these may become the new climate normal, and it may be at point where they are unavoidable, warns a new World Bank Report on climate change out this week.  

Scientists are saying that if the climate warming trend continues, Buffalo, for instance, may experience a higher frequency of intense snowfall events like this past week’s. Rising temperature are beginning to keep parts of the Great Lakes ice-free for extended periods of time from autumn through spring. This is expected to add even more moisture to the air above the lakes, and will just fuel and intensify what are known as lake effect snow events.

But the overall message in this new report is that extreme weather events driven by climate change will have serious impacts on human livelihood around the world.

Areas that are already prone to flooding will see an uptick in deluges, says Thomas Pedersen, Executive Director, Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions at University of Victoria.

“Every degree of warming allows air to suck up seven percent more water vapour, and when that wetter air contacts colder conditions, condensation occurs and extra water comes down as rainfall,” said Pedersen.

“We’re already seeing this across the northern hemisphere,” he said.

"Increased rainfall extremes in recent years can now be detected by rigorous statistical analysis of long-term rainfall datasets.”

There has also been a rise in the number of heat waves, the effects of which are becoming more noticeable and more serious. For instance, the report points out the heat wave of summer 2010 that Russia experienced saw over 11,000 deaths in the city of Moscow alone. 

As a side casualty, world food prices skyrocketed during the same event, soon after Russia cut wheat exports.

“A major heat wave in one geographical region can have serious global repercussions,” added Pedersen.

Pedersen believes humans have been changing the climate today and have been for years, so it wouldn’t be surprising if similarly intense heat waves were to break out in North America in the future. And when they do, it will surely impact energy demands: The Texas heat wave of 2011, for instance, pushed the state’s power grid to its limits because of skyrocketing demand for air conditioning.

“There are large and entirely negative economic impacts from these events, and in that regard, the unwillingness of some governments to recognize that greenhouse gas emissions cause severe economic damage is shameful,” explained Pedersen.

“We are entering a new and unwelcome climatic era that will not see us return to the relatively stable climates of the past 10,000 years for centuries or longer.”