New tool helps you understand climate change in your garden

snow and Autumn leaves in Amherst NY
On average, the Earth is warming. Even though the climate is changing, we can still get snow and cold days here in Western New York. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Find out how climate change is affecting your garden through a new online tool that provides county-level information on how the climate has changed since 1950 and what you can expect in the future.

Called Climate Change in Your County, the tool was launched recently by the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions.

It tracks average annual temperatures, high and low temperature trends, length of growing season and annual growing degree days. It also offers precipitation trends and climate projections.

It covers the Northeast United States, but not Canada.

This is the initial beta version of the tool and additional changes will be coming, including descriptive text and increased functionality.

As the Cornell Chronicle explained in this article, climate change isn’t affecting all locations in the same way. In most counties in the Northeast, the annual average temperatures will rise, but there are outliers. Hardy and Mineral counties, West Virginia, have seen a cooling trend in their average annual temperatures. Having the data for your county helps you see the climate trends for your landscape.

In Western New York and Northern Pennsylvania, one trend is that the growing season is getting longer. But how much longer depends on where you live. The trend is for an increase in the growing season of about four days in Erie County, but an increase of about nine days in Cattaraugus County.

To see the data for your county, go to this site, click on Growing Season on the left, then hover your cursor over your county.

map of counties showing change in number of growing days
The length of the growing season in Erie County is expected to increase by more than four days per decade, and in Cattaraugus County, by more than nine days. You can see more data for these and other counties by visiting Copyright Cornell University, 2018.

Climate change trends for WNY—good and bad

To get an overview of what climate change means to different areas of Western New York, look at an article we ran last year called Our growing season is longer: What gardeners need to know about climate change in WNY.

There’s also the report that was mandated by Congress and issued on Nov. 23. It’s called the 4th National Climate Assessment, Volume II, “Impacts, Risks, and Adaption in the United States.” You can read it for yourself here. Several scientists from Cornell University contributed to the report.

Yes, the growing season in Western New York  is getting longer, which will make local gardeners happy. But there are downsides to climate change, too.

  • While we may be able to grow plants that need warmer temperatures or a longer growing season, plants that we have come to depend on might not grow well in a warmer climate.
  • More invasive pests may be able to thrive here.
  • Risk of disease transmitted by fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes, such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus, may increase. These diseases, specifically tick-related Lyme disease, have been linked to climate, particularly with abundant late-spring and early-summer moisture. See more here. 
  • Air pollution could increase and be harmful to our health.
  • We have seen increases in the frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation events (heavy snow or rain), and those intense events may continue. See more here.

The effects of climate change are more drastic in other parts of the country. According to the report, “without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.”

To see how you can help make an impact on climate change, check out the article Septembers are getting warmer in most of WNY; what gardeners can do. Also consider helping out meterologists by volunteering to report weather in your backyard. 

What are your questions about climate change?

2 Comments on “New tool helps you understand climate change in your garden

  1. Very interesting article! I seem to remember that snows were deeper and it was colder when I was a kid waiting for the school bus. Looks like it was probably a true memory.

    Reporting weather data appears to be a fun and helpful task. I think the gauge necessary to take measurements would make a great Christmas gift too!

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