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Wicked weather in central New York affected by climate change

Jessica Cain

This month in central New York has brought a variety of weather. Rainy, warmer days at the beginning of the month quickly turned into snowfall and sub-zero temperatures. But is it being caused by climate change, or just normal weather patterns?

Dr. Yonggang Wang, an assistant professor of meteorology at SUNY Oswego, said it can be hard to tell without a thorough analysis of factors like the amount of solar radiation or the temperature of the air mass that is moving toward the area.

"It is difficult to determine whether or not this particular event was caused by the climate change, but definitely it is impacted by the climate change," said Wang.

Wang said as the Earth’s climate has warmed, a new pattern of more frequent and more intense weather events is unfolding around the world. In central New York, Wang said, those warmer temperatures could paradoxically lead to more lake effect snow.

"There's one big important condition for the formation of lake effect snow,” said Wang. “We need to have the open lake surface. So, that warm temperature can give us a longer time period of open ice-free, snow-free lake surface."

Dr. Martin Dovciak, associate professor in the environmental biology department at SUNY ESF, said broadly speaking, local climate trends match global climate trends. He said last year was the second hottest year on record in Syracuse, and as the temperatures rise, we’ll see more variable weather.

"We are changing essentially the circulation of the planet, and so these dramatic shifts in temperatures are related to weakening of the jet stream, which kind of keeps the polar air at the polar cap," said Dovciak.

Dovciak said we’re also likely to see the effects in our environment, as climate changes shift our area’s biome.

"There are powerful papers that have been published by various people around the world now that show for example, that tree mortality is increasing, and climate change is a major factor in that, so we will lose the green spaces down the road," said Dovciak.

While the research looks grim, both Dovciak and Wang believe that each person can make a difference by making more environmentally conscious choices.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.