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Extreme Temperatures

All of Erie County, including the Town of Aurora,  is exposed to extreme temperature events, both hot and cold.  These extremes may cause

health impacts, including injury or possibly death.  

It's estimated that Erie County will continue to experience extreme temperature events that may cause hazards such as snow, hail, ice or wind storms, thunderstorms, drought, utility failure, and transportation accidents. 

Who's Most at Risk?

Populations most at risk to extreme cold and heat events are:

  1. The elderly who are less able to withstand temperature extremes due to age, health    conditions, and limited mobility to access shelters. 

  2. Infants and children up to 4 years of age. 

  3. People with chronic medical conditions.  Low-income residents that can't afford proper heating and cooling. 

  4. The general public who may overexert during work or exercise during extreme heat         events or experience hypothermia during extreme cold events.

Our Economy-

Extreme temperature events also impact our economy. This can include loss of business and/or damage to inventories.  Business owners can be faced with higher than normal utility bills, or interruption of power and telecommunications due to grid failure.  Losses can be associated with the overheating of heating, ventilation, or air conditioning (HVAC) systems.  Disruptions of roads and bridges can also impact the economy for business owners and customers. Freezing and warming weather patterns also impact our local ski industry with shorter seasons and unpredictable, fluctuating, or insufficient snow and ice patterns. 

 

Our Climate Habitability-

Extreme temperatures negatively effect the environment and create changes in natural processes. Excessive snowfall and earlier warming periods can alter water sources and increase flood risk.  Rain-on-snow events also exacerbate runoff rates with trends toward warmer winter weather.  Insufficient snow/precipitation degrades our water table which in turn impacts agriculture and vegetation health. 

Extreme COLD

In Erie County, extreme cold days are defined as days with minimum temperatures at or below 32° F or 0° C.  Several health hazards are related to extreme cold temperatures including wind chill, frostbite, and hypothermia.

 

Infants and the elderly are most susceptible to the effects of extreme cold. These events can cause emergencies for those without shelter, stranded, or who live in a home that is poorly insulated such as a mobile home. During the recent Blizzard of 2022, extreme prolonged winds and cold combined with heavy snow caused power outages. These combined factors took the lives of more than 40 residents, many of whom froze to death while in their homes, attempting to walk to safety, or were stranded in their cars.  

 

The Erie County and Town of Aurora Highway Departments are very experienced in snow removal and the expert handling of extreme snow and cold events. This blizzard illustrated how even the best prepared municipalities with years of experience in managing extreme events, can still remain at significant risk for injury and death to workers and residents. 

 

Power outages occur during extreme cold events and people powering their homes with generators are exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning if proper ventilation procedures are not followed. Improperly connected portable generators are capable of back feeding power lines, which can cause injury or death to utility workers attempting to restore power, while also damaging house wiring. 

 

Impact on Buildings-

Extreme cold events can damage buildings and increase financial burden to owners through freezing bursting pipes and freeze/thaw cycles, as well as increased risk of home fires. The CDC reports that approximately 30 percent of all deaths caused by fire occurs in the winter months. Cooking and heat sources too close to combustible materials are leading factors in winter home fires.  

 

Mobile homes and poorly constructed buildings struggle to withstand extreme cold temperatures. Older buildings, such as many in the Town of Aurora and Village of East Aurora, were built under less strict building codes. As a result, they are more vulnerable to extreme cold events because of cracks or leaks in the walls, old windows, and inadequate insulation in foundations, walls, and roofs. Roof damage can also occur after excessive snow fall and extreme temperature changes.

 

Impact on Critical Facilities-

Heavy snowfall and ice storms associated with extreme cold, can cause power interruptions, thereby creating the need for emergency back-up power systems. 

 

Impact on Transportation- 

Traveling on slippery, icy roads and sidewalks in extreme cold is a well-known hazard for Town of Aurora residents along with the increased risk of secondary health hazards caused by injuries and exposure to the cold. Transportation slow-downs and school closures cause disruption for businesses, households, and emergency services. Decreased fuel efficiency for automotive heating results in more greenhouse gas emissions. Increased frequencies of freeze-thaw cycles have been related to premature deterioration of road , sidewalks, driveways, and other infrastructure pavements.

 

Impact on the Environment-

Extreme cold weather and the ice that can accompany it can have a devasting impact on trees and our forest canopy. Cold snaps can also impact area crops and other vegetation. In late spring or early fall, cold air outbreaks can damage or kill produce for farmers, as well as homeowner's plants and flowers. A too-early warm up in early spring can cause buds and seeds to emerge prematurely.  If followed by an extreme cold event, this can have a devastating impact on crop yields and tree/vegetative health. The use of ice-melting salt on roads and residential sidewalks during extreme cold events is also harmful to plants and soil. 

Extreme HEAT

Over the next century, average summertime (June-August) temperatures in NYS are projected to increase between 3.6 to 10.80F.  

 

The following graph illustrate how increases in temperatures can impact our climate.  Under this scenario, we will experience a new climate in which there are more frequent hot events with more extreme high temperatures and fewer cold events. We'll also experience more fluctuation in warmer temperatures. We can expect these changes to continue into the future.

Temp fluctuations.png

While Erie County and the Town of Aurora have more experience addressing extreme cold and lake effect snowfall events, vulnerability to heat waves and elevated temperatures is particularly problematic for our residents and infrastructure. 

Heat disproportionately affects vulnerable populations including the elderly, young children, outdoor workers, socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, and those living in socially and environmentally vulnerable regions. Most heat-related deaths occur from long exposure to extreme heat with little or no air-conditioning.

 

Direct impacts of extreme heat on health include heat-related illness such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and even death. Exposure to extreme heat can also exacerbate pre-existing conditions such as cardiovascular, respiratory, and renal diseases.

 

Mobility and accessibility to cooling shelters such as libraries and accessibility to hospital emergency departments were estimated by Erie County across Western New York.  Accessibility with regard to minimum driving times to area hospital emergency departments was found to be relatively low for rural communities, such as the Town of Aurora.

 

According to Erie County's Heat & Health Profile Report, the Town of Aurora ranks from medium to low risk in identified key areas of heat vulnerability. While the overall heat vulnerability index for our town is at the lower range of the scale compared to the City of Buffalo and its closer suburbs, certain vulnerabilities in our town and village fall in the medium range of concern. They are : 1)  isolation for the elderly in our rural township; 2) socio-economic vulnerability; 3) language vulnerability; and 4) urban heat island effects within the Village of East Aurora.

The term 'heat island' describes built-up areas that are hotter than nearby rural areas. They are most intense over dense urban areas with hardscape infrastructure such as parking lots, driveways, athletic courts, and other blacktopped surfaces. Heat islands occur on the ground and in the air. On a hot, sunny day, the sun heats these exposed surfaces to temperatures 50°F to 90°F hotter than the atmosphere.  Heat islands can affect communities such as the Village of East Aurora  by increasing peak energy demand during the summer. This heat island effect can result in increased air conditioning costs, greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness or death, and water quality degradation.

Impact on Buildings-

Heat typically doesn't impact buildings. However, higher summer temperatures increase the energy demand for cooling. Losses can be associated with the overheating of ventilation and air conditioning systems. Mobile homes, poorly constructed buildings, and older buildings can have insufficient abilities to withstand extreme heat. 

Impact on Critical Facilities-

Extreme heat events can sometimes cause short periods of utility failures, commonly referred to as brown-outs, because of increased usage from air conditioners and other energy-intensive appliances. 

Impact on Transportation -

Infrastructure such as roads and bridges may experience damage from extreme temperature events such as cracking, buckling, or sagging. 

Impact on the Environment-

Extreme heat can cause fish kills, aquatic plant die-offs, and an increase in harmful algal blooms.

It can also cause secondary hazards such as droughts and wildfires which can contribute to the loss of ecosystems and wildlife habitats.  Excessive, prolonged heat can cause drought conditions for farmers, with the risk of crop loss and increased irrigation costs. 

(Sources: Erie County Heat-Health Profile Report Developed by NYS Department of Health, Center for Environmental Health. 2019; NYS Department of Health: Extreme Heat  Health in New York State; Erie County Climate Vulnerability Assessment,

NYSERDA, U.S. Fire Administration, US EPA.) 

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