Pennsylvania could be nearly six degrees hotter on average by 2050, while seeing more frequent heatwaves and intense rain, according to the state’s latest Climate Impacts Assessment.
The report estimates the state’s average temperature will continue to rise up to 5.9 degrees higher on average by midcentury. That’s half a degree hotter than expected in the 2015 report.
The projections also show more frequent and intense storms and heat waves. The state could see more than a month’s worth of days 90 degrees or higher through the year, up from 5 days during a baseline period.
Total precipitation could increase by 8 percent, falling less frequently but in heavier rain events. Droughts are also expected to become more common.
“I’d say the big difference between the last report and this one is we’ve actually experienced the impact of some of that weather now,” said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell, referring to storms in 2018 that caused severe flash flooding across the state.
The report uses a worst-case scenario climate model, with no assumed solutions, to make its projections. Increases are compared to a baseline period measured from 1971 to 2000.
McDonnell said by using that model, it gives the state an opportunity to have a meaningful impact on the projected outcomes by pursuing greenhouse gas reduction policies.
Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said the new assessment better explains the disproportionate impacts that environmental justice communities face.
“And in that lies part of the solution to engaging the public more deeply and having people understand impacts and also engage people in the solutions,” Dunn said.
Environmental justice areas have a high percentage of minority or low-income residents. They are nearly twice as likely as the state average to see days over 90 degrees.
Environmental advocates said the report paints a dire picture of what Pennsylvania faces without strong climate action.
“Higher temperatures, more frequent heavy rains, flooding, and other effects will harm important industries such as agriculture and tourism, but the risks to public health are even more dire,” said Rob Altenburg, PennFuture’s Senior Director for Energy and Climate. “The public should be shocked by these numbers and urged to call for immediate climate action from their elected officials.”
Gov. Tom Wolf has set emission reduction goals of 26 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050, compared to 2005 levels. He’s directed the DEP to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) through regulation; the cap-and-trade program with eleven northeastern and mid-Atlantic states targets emissions from power plants.
The state legislature has neglected to take significant action on climate change in the last decade. Republican leaders have staunchly opposed Wolf’s effort to join RGGI, which they say will hurt coal communities and the state’s economy more broadly.
Pennsylvania is the fifth-largest carbon dioxide emitter in the country, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.