Impact of climate change on central Ohio detailed in new report

Local News

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Soggy fields and lawns were still the rule in early January, following the wettest year in Columbus’ history, with official records back to 1879.

During 2018, John Glenn Columbus International Airport received 55.18 inches, eclipsing 2011 (54.96 inches). Other parts of the city had even more, including 57.91 inches on the northwest side of town. In Hocking County, an observer in Rockbridge measured 65.19 for the year.

In late December, a task force of climate scientists from Ohio State’s Byrd Polar Climate and Research Center issued a 125-page report that was presented to a panel of Columbus officials, listing ways the city could ease the impacts of even higher temperatures, which are linked to more frequent and heavier downpours.

Among the recommendations to offset the urban heat island effect include an expanding network of cooling centers, programs to distribute fans and air conditioners to the vulnerable population, and planting more trees to to provide cooling shade and evaporation, and filter stormwater and air pollution.

Regarding the increasing number of heavy rainfalls, the task force advised the adoption of regulations to upgrade aging infrastructure, and monitor practices that mitigate basement and sewage backups.

Jason Cervenec, education and outreach director at Byrd Polar Climate and Research Center, who chaired the Columbus Climate Adaptation Plan Task Force, commented that “actions you can take, thinking now about what you plant into the ground, what you put into the landscape around your property.” Vegetation and drain tiles absorb excess runoff and limits stormwater runoff, which impairs streams in urban settings.

In November, the U.S. Fourth National Climate Assessment report documented a 44 percent increase in the top 1 percent of all precipitation events in the past half-century in the Midwest. The report also warned of temperatures rising several degrees before the end of the century, contributing to rising sea levels as glaciers melt and thermal ocean expansion due to warmer waters.

In 2018, natural disasters took a heavy economic toll globally, estimated to be $155 billion by Swiss Re, a reinsurance firm based in Zurich, Switzerland.

A combination of floods, droughts, heat and wildfires are tied to a warmer and more volatile climate system, according to Ohio State scientists, and climatologists around the world.

More than 8,500 wildfires in California burned 1.9 million acres, killing at least 100 people in 2018.  At least 86 died in the Camp Fire in Northern California, with losses around $10 billion.

Massive flooding caused by Hurricane Florence in eastern North Carolina, which dumped up to three feet of rain, helped push the annual rainfall total at Wilmington past 100 inches. Across the U.S., more than 100 cities set new all-time rainfall records, and eight states may have had their wettest years, pending further review of climatic data still being processed.

The Columbus Climate Change Action Plan includes 23 steps that can be taken to foster adaptation to warmer and wetter conditions, including extreme heat, air quality water quality and flooding, water systems, ecosystems and preparedness: https://byrd.osu.edu/columbus

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