Penn State study: Pa. flood risk rising with climate change | Wednesday Morning Coffee

Projections show the state will face more extreme rainfall and flooding by 2050

January 5, 2022 7:07 am

Flooding in Bucks County on 7/12/21 (Photo via, reproduced by permission).

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The wildfires tracing a path of death and destruction in the American West mark the first natural disaster of the New Year. And the same changes in climate that turned Colorado into a tinderbox are laying the groundwork for future disasters in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is in line for more extreme rainfall and flooding by 2050, according to a recent assessment by researchers at Penn State University.

The paper, published in the Journal of Hydrometeorology, reached its conclusions by combining historical flood information with climate models to estimate future risk, according to the environmental news site, StateImpact Pennsylvania, which first reported its findings.

“Our projections suggest that flood hazards and exposure across Pennsylvania are overall increasing with future climate change,” the report’s authors wrote. “Specific regions, including the main stem Susquehanna River, lower portion of the Allegheny basin, and central portion of Delaware River basin, demonstrate higher flood inundation risks. In our analysis, the climate uncertainty dominates the overall uncertainty surrounding the flood inundation projection chain.”

The Marshall Fire in Boulder County, Colorado (Image via Colorado Newsline).

According to StateImpact Pennsylvania, the top three cities with the highest projected flood hazards were Lock Haven, Williamsport, and Sunbury, all situated along the west branch of the Susquehanna River. All have a history of flooding.

The study also found that Warren, Bradford, Wilkes-Barre, Johnstown, York, and Connellsville, in Fayette County, also face some of the highest flooding risks, StateImpact Pennsylvania reported.

“Places that…today have the highest risks of flooding, those same places seem to be the ones that are at most risk 50, 100 years from now,” Alfonso Mejia, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and one of the paper’s authors, told StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Cover of the Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment 2021 (Capital-Star screen capture).

In May, officials across several state agencies called for a “multi-dimensional” approach to fighting climate change, the Capital-Star’s Cassie Miller and Stephen Caruso reported at the time.

In a 143-page report that’s released every three years, officials at the state Department of Environmental Protection noted six expected changes by mid-century when compared to a 1971-2000 baseline.

They include:

  • The average annual temperature statewide will continue to rise, and is expected to increase by 5.9°F (3.3°C) compared to the baseline.
  • There will be more frequent and intense extreme heat events. For example, temperatures are expected to reach at least 90°F on 37 days per year on average across the state, up from the 5 days during the baseline period. Days reaching temperatures above 95°F and 100°F will become more frequent as well.
  • Increasing temperatures will continue to alter the growing season and increase the number of days that people need to cool their homes and workspaces, but will also decrease the number of days that people will need to use heating.
  • Pennsylvania could experience more total average rainfall, occurring in less frequent but heavier rain events. Extreme rainfall events are projected to increase in magnitude, frequency, and intensity. Drought conditions are also expected to occur more frequently due to more extreme, but less frequent precipitation patterns.
  • Tidally influenced flooding is expected to increase in the Delaware Estuary coastal zone.
  • Lake Erie is also expected to undergo significant changes in water level, coastal erosion, and water temperature. Notably, Lake Erie experienced record high water levels in 2019

“No one can expect Pennsylvanians’ lives to stay as they are now,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said at the time.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

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A landmark school funding trial that could change the way Pennsylvania pays for public education resumes Thursday after a holiday break. Marley Parish previews what’s ahead.

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State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, called it a career on Monday, announcing he won’t seek re-election this year. You can stay up to speed with retirements and primaries with our handy-dandy tracker.

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Allegheny County’s medical examiner has ruled the death of Jim Rogers, a Black man from Pittsburgh who perished last October after being repeatedly tasered by city police, an accident, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

In his inaugural address, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, the city’s first Black chief executive, promised ‘a city where affordability isn’t a luxury, and a city that is prepared to lead into the future,’ our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz finds some reasons to be cheerful in 2022. And a University of Connecticut expert explains how the Capitol insurrection changed Americans’ relationship with conspiracy theories.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: A pro-Trump mob breaks into the U.S. Capitol on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The Inquirer asked the 2022 GOP U.S. Senate candidates from Pennsylvania if they would have accepted the results of the 2022 election — They wouldn’t answer.

Former Allegheny County Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty has died of complications from COVID-19, the Post-Gazette reports.

Contrary to national trends, killings dropped in Harrisburg in 2021PennLive reports (paywall).

LancasterOnline talked to Lancaster Police Chief John T. Bey about his first year on the job.

A York County judge has thrown out a protective order issued against a local tax collector, the York Daily Record reports.

More than 700 students from one Lehigh Valley school district were absent from school on Monday —  more than half from COVID-19, the Morning Call reports.

With COVID cases surging, restrictions have returned to Lancaster County, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

City & State Pa. updates on the expanding Republican field for governor in 2022.

The Philadelphia Health Department is warning city residents about a possible COVID-19 testing scamWHYY-FM reports.

Officials in Erie are ready to settle another excessive force lawsuit against city police, GoErie reports (paywall).

Pennsylvania’s historical markers are being revised to share information more accurately, the Observer-Reporter reports.

One year after the Jan. 6 insurrection, some companies are still hesitant about their political givingRoll Call reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:


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What Goes On
The desk is clear. Enjoy the silence.

Gov. Tom Wolf heads to Pittsburgh for an 11 a.m. news conference to urge people to enroll in health care before the Jan. 15 deadline.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who completes another trip around the sun today.

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Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
The Tampa Bay Lightning handily dispatched Columbus on Tuesday night, winning 7-2. The ‘Bolts’ Ondrej Palat scored twice on the way to his team’s first win in four games, reports.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.