top of page
Extreme Storm Events
Extreme Storm Events

 While no single weather event is standalone evidence of a changing climate, longer-term trends in frequency and intensity of extreme events are consistent with climate change.

The Water Cycle-

Trends in temperature change impact the hydrological (water) cycle and can lead to extended periods of drought mixed with extreme precipitation. For instance, higher temperatures reduce winter snowpack, which reduces soil moisture. That in turn, can create drought conditions in the following spring or summer months. 


Our Lake Effect Snow Machine-

Strangely, these same changes can also lead to more extreme amounts of precipitation as rain or snowfall.  In recent years, our region has experienced an increase in extreme precipitation weather events. and more extreme snowfall patterns are projected to increase throughout the northeast.  As ice cover on the Great Lakes diminishes, the warmer water becomes the fuel for the lake-effect snow machine. These extremes take place as warmer air drives moisture off of waterbodies and mixes in the atmosphere, ultimately producing precipitation. Our changing climate can release a vast amount of moisture in a short period of time, especially if the right atmospheric conditions exist.

Screenshot 2023-08-22 at 1.51_edited.png

Extreme Weather Events in Western New York-

Western NY is no stranger to extreme events, including flooding, snowstorms, extreme heat, and high wind events.  Some important past extreme weather events in our area include:

  •  The 2009 historic flooding in the Village of Gowanda. Flooding of Thatcher Brook occurred when extreme precipitation from the collision of two storms dropped a massive amount of water on the Cattaraugus Creek watershed. The flooding left one dead, destroyed the Village hospital and resulted in $1-2 million in damages to the community where at least 25% of the homes in the Village of Gowanda were impacted.

  • The November 2014 winter storm. A lake effect storm, known as “Snowvember”by most, hit the greater Buffalo region and lasted from November 17th to the 19th. Nearly 7 feet of snow fell in this time on a large portion of the County, resulting in stranded commuters, property damage, and the loss of 13 lives.

  • A record-breaking heat wave in July, 2020. During this heat wave, WNY temperatures soared into the 90+ degree range for multiple consecutive days, breaking weather records for Buffalo, NY for both duration of these temperatures as well as the hottest day on record for July 9th at 98 degrees Fahrenheit. This record was the 2nd hottest of any day in Buffalo as well.

  • A July 16, 2020 tornado. A severe storm resulted in a tornado touching down in Chautauqua County, NY. This tornado destroyed a family barn, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage to the Dewettville property. Extreme winds associated with thunderstorms have been increasing in Erie County, a potential link to climate-related changes.

  • The Blizzard of 2022, where extreme prolonged winds combined with heavy snow caused power outages and severely impacted the community, resulting in the deaths of more than 40 individuals. 

A "Migrating Climate"-

As our climate warms, and potentially “migrates”, Western NY is predicted to experience more extreme weather events, including possible extremes not historically witnessed before (Figure 7). Under certain emissions scenarios, our local climate may change to resemble the climates that are typically experienced in the southeast United States, such as longer summers and shorter winters. Given the extremes already experienced in recent years, in a warming world these events are expected to occur more frequently, with increased severity and duration. Extremes in temperature and precipitation

(Figure 9) are often cited as common hazards we may face. However, these changes in temperature and precipitation can lead to other, less-direct threats that may be less obvious.

Screenshot 2023-08-22 at 1.52.45 PM.png
Screenshot 2023-08-22 at 1.53.36 PM.png



Precipitation patterns have changed in NYS. The number of rainfall events that produce precipitation in excess of 1 inch have increased over the past 50 years and the events that produced more than 2 inches of precipitation have had the highest frequency in the past 10 years.  This is expected to increase further over the next several decades (Figure 9). Annual precipitation is expected to increase by 5-15% in the region, with less precipitation in winter and spring and more precipitation in fall and summer . Snowfall will also be impacted.



While the overall amount of winter precipitation isn’t expected to decline, the timing and intensity of storms may change. Erie County is expected to see a decrease in precipitation overall in December, winter storms are projected to produce more rain than snow, and when it does snow the intensity of snowfall may be more severe with short durations of heavy snow.


Substrate Impact-

Heavier, more intense, precipitation can lead to increased physical and chemical weathering. Physical weathering takes place from increases in freeze- thaw or wet-dry events. This creates and widens physical cracks in substrates such as bedrock, concrete, and pavement. Heavy rain can also lead to saturated soils and splash effects that increase erosion. Increases in precipitation may also exacerbate chemical weathering that happens when  elevated acidity levels (from the dissolution of carbon dioxide in rainwater) creating a weak carbonic acid. These impacts combined with increases in temperature can also lead to higher rates in chemical reactions which in turn increases chemical weathering.


Agricultural impacts-

Alterations in precipitation patterns may negatively impact the agricultural community in Erie County. As variability increases, more arid conditions may reduce crop yields and extremes in precipitation may increase rates of erosion and directly lead to loss of prime farm soils.


Stormwater and sewer infrastructure- 

Combined, these potential changes can mean challenges in managing stormwater flow, excess inputs to sewer lines (and associated overages of flow that release untreated wastewater into waterways), and damage to infrastructure from physical weathering, chemical weathering, and storm damage. Vulnerable populations may be more at risk through low-income residences located in a floodplain, or through a lack of ability to recover from the financial aspect of flood damage.


Erie County is located within an “extreme wind hazard area”. Historically this  has cost our region millions in property damage and crop failure. Over the past 20 years, there has been a significant increase in wind associated with thunderstorms (Figure 15), illustrating the interrelated impacts that climate change may bring.

Screenshot 2023-08-22 at 1.57.06 PM.png

Wind speeds are projected to increase in the winter and summer months as the climate warms, which may continue the locally-observed trend toward more frequent and intense thunderstorm winds.


Wind direction is also changing from the typical prevailing southwest winds to more northeasterly winds. This shift in direction, along with increased wind speeds, may increase the likelihood of wind damage to infrastructure, houses, trees. WNY may experience a slight increase in the number of winter storms (due to an expected northerly shift of the jet stream) and associated high wind events.


Off-season storms are also expected to increase, which can be detrimental to trees and infrastructure. Snowstorms occurring in late Spring or early Fall, for example, can be particularly damaging. In regard to trees, once leaves on trees are budding in spring or still remaining on trees in the fall, the weight of the snow will make trees and their branches more susceptible to being knocked down by the wind, ice, and/or snow, increasing the likelihood of power outages. We are also expected to see a summertime increase in the strength of the lake breeze coming from Lake Erie due to enhanced temperature differences between the lake and land, which could be beneficial for helping to cool the region during the summer months.


Ice jam formation- Climate change may have profound impacts on wind currents surrounding Lake Erie as well as an increase in annual-mean wind speed. This may lead to changes in ice jam formation and break up while the lake still has ice formation in the winter. Increases in extreme wind events can exacerbate the damage that has historically been done when these events occur (such as ice jams), leading to additional property damage, crop failure, and potentially wind-related erosion.


Tornados- WNY has not had the frequency of tornados that other parts of the country have. However, a review of the tornado occurrences between 1950 and 2020 indicates that these storms are increasing in frequency – at least over the long term. The period spanning 1950 to 1990 had 8 tornado events, while the period between 1990 and 2020 had 14. Extreme wind can also lead to lakeshore flooding from seiche events, which for Lake Erie are waves resulting from oscillations in lake levels due to atmospheric events. In the Great Lakes, this is largely due to a rapid alteration of barometric pressure gradients resulting in higher wind speeds. A review of the last 20 years of data indicates that a seiche event occurs on average once every year, with property damage occurring in 11 of those 20 events. Wind will be incorporated into both temperature and precipitation-related analyses, as it is a key factor in both extreme temperature and precipitation (e.g., thunderstorms, Figure 15 above) related events.

"We do not live in a vacuum and what impacts humanity elsewhere may very well impact us from thousands of miles away."

The Erie County Climate Vulnerability Assessment (Draft of Climate Hazards Summary Report August 16, 2020)

Supply Chain Disruption-

Should the WNY region avoid the worst of direct climate-related impacts such as severe weather events, there remains the risk of climate impacts elsewhere on the globe impacting our communities.  For example: 

  • Hurricane Sandy (2012)- Although largely centered around New York City, there were disruptions in the supply chain in WNY as a result.

  • Additional risks in supply disruption and municipal financing may be associated with agriculture, water scarcity, and famine in other parts of the world that are far removed from WNY but may impact the region all the same.

  • The risk that climate change has on supply chains is well known to the business community. This awareness is borne out in reports from Business for Social Responsibility, where they explicitly recommend that businesses identify and mitigate issues with climate hazards in their suppliers.

  • Other industry-specific news articles identify climate change as one of several key drivers of potential global supply chain disruptions, listed along with COVID-19 and terrorism.

  • The heightened risk is a cause for concern for the shipping industry, as efforts to get the business community to understand and address these concerns shows.

bottom of page