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Climate change is affecting weather patterns in the Northeast Region. Pennsylvania residents, especially those who live in urban environments should prepare for hotter summers and intense downpours. 

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Jessica Spaccio, a climatologist at the North Regional Climate Center expects above-normal temperatures this summer.

“I’d say it’s not unlikely that we’d have a decent number of above 90-degree days. You’d expect to have some extremes mixed in with that,” she said. 

Climate data collected by the NRCC from 1991 to 2020 observe the average maximum summer temperature in Pennsylvania ranging from the upper 70s to mid-80s, says Spaccio. The above-normal temperatures are caused by increased amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses such as CO2 entering the atmosphere. 

According to NOAA State Climate Summaries, temperatures in Pennsylvania have risen almost 2°F since the beginning of the 20th century, and temperatures in the 2000s have been higher than in any other historical period. If greenhouse gas concentrations increase, Pennsylvania’s average annual temperatures will exceed historical periods by the middle of the century, according to Spaccio.

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Who’s at risk

Increasing temperatures can create health risks for people living in urban environments. Cities tend to be warmer than rural areas because of the lack of green spaces and impervious surfaces, creating an urban heat island effect, says Spaccio. Residents who are elderly, have health conditions, or live in low-income households are more at risk. 

The simple solution for residents would be to turn up their air conditioners, but two problems arise with that. One is that not everyone has or can afford an AC unit. Spaccio says many cities will have cooling centers, a public air-conditioned space for people to cool off during heat waves, but that also raises an issue. 

“If you can’t get out of your home just to a cooling center or maybe where you live, there are no cooling centers or, you know, there’s a lot of implications on who has access to air,” she said.

The second issue is the concern of the power grids. A city in the Northeast can experience recurring short power outages- also known as brownouts– if more people turn on their AC.

Studies by NOAA have also shown warmer nights are increasing, raising more concern and urgency for people to find ways to cool off.

“At nighttime, when things don’t cool down as much, then you don’t have that kind of reprieve from the heat,” she said. “A lot of people rely on opening their windows overnight to cool down their homes. And if overnight it stays hot and humid, then you don’t get the opportunity.”

How increased temperatures lead to downpour

With humidity comes more rain, and the warmer air in the atmosphere holds more water.  Climatologists predict intense rainstorms will occur more frequently during the summer season. 

We’re already seeing an increase in these extreme precipitation events that are causing flash floods,” Spaccio said. “We’ve been seeing a lot of these in the region, and that is something that we expect to see increase throughout the future as well.”

Spaccio urges people to plan how they will beat the heat and storms during the summer months. Residents should buy an air conditioning unit or locate their nearest cooling center, block their home from the sun with curtains, and drink plenty of water. People who live near waterways should prepare for flash floods.