The Changing Climate of Northeast Ohio: Future Directions

by Bob Heath

The climate is changing all over the United States but not at the same rate in all places. Ohio is among the regions where 

the climate is changing most rapidly. It is predicted that this region will be an average of 4 to 5 degrees warmer by 2050. Such rapid climate change puts at risk the economic and environmental sustainability of ecosystems, a situation that will require people to adapt to the changes or move elsewhere. 

Ohio is getting warmer and wetter. Both the average daily low temperature and the average daily high temperature are increasing; the low temperatures are increasing faster than the  high temperatures. Likewise, the winters are warming faster than the summers. The consequences of the accelerated warming are fewer frozen fields and frozen lakes, both of which threaten traditional agricultural practices that take advantage of the ability to drive heavy equipment over frozen fields. Lakes without ice cover will experience increased evaporation and increased light penetration into the bottom waters, altering temperature-dependent lake processes.

The threat is increased flooding–not lakes drying up. Lakes will be replenished by increased rainfall. Since 1900, precipitation in Ohio has increased by 15%. Five of the 10 wettest years in Ohio have occurred since 2003. Snowfall will decrease, rainfall will increase, and episodes of rainfall will be more intense than in the past. The seasonality of precipitation also is changing. Farmers have depended on the usual scenario of a dry spring (so they can plant early), followed by even rainfall amounts throughout the summer, followed by a dry autumn (so they can harvest their crops). That scenario, however, is changing to a wetter spring, followed by a droughty summer, followed by a rainy autumn. It is a worst-case scenario for agriculture, as farmers will have to alter long-standing best practices in the face of a potentially shorter growing season and the need to plant drought-tolerant crops.

Aaron Wilson

Imagine how great it would be if Ohio had a state climate  office to address these issues. Actually, such an office does exist–at The Ohio State University–and it publishes online a Quarterly Climate Summary. The director of the climate office is Aaron Wilson. Wilson spoke at the Understanding Harmful Algal Blooms: State of the Science conference held on September 12 at the University of Toledo.

The quarterly report for June through August 2019 shows the following: 

  • The summer of 2019 was the 12th wettest summer on record, while June 2019 was the fifth wettest June on record.
  • Portage, Summit and Stark counties were among the counties receiving the most precipitation at 125% to 175% percent above normal (“normal” is the average during the period 1981-2010).
  • The summer of 2019 was warmer than average, achieving the rank of 30th warmest summer since 1895 (about 2 degrees warmer than average over that period).
  • The warmth was driven by warm overnight temperatures.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.