Local impact of climate change

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Climate change: What is it?

Climate change describes a change in the average conditions—such as temperature and rainfall—in a region over a long period of time. Global climate change refers to the average long-term changes over the entire Earth. NASA scientists have observed that Earth’s surface is warming and many of the warmest years on record have happened in the past 20 years.

Climate change has both natural and anthropogenic 1 0 causes. Anthropogenic causes—or climate change due to human activity—has a 95% probability of being responsible for much of the observed increase in Earth’s temperatures over the past 50 years.2 Industrial activities by humans are changing the “natural greenhouse” and causing the greenhouse effect. This happens when natural and man-made heat-trapping gases from industry accumulate in the atmosphere, allowing in the short wavelengths of the sun’s light (solar radiation) and trapping the long wavelengths of heat that normally would radiate away from earth into space as infrared light.

There are five greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases. Each of these gases has a different global warming potential based on their concentration and atmospheric lifetime. Fluorinated gases are emitted in small quantities but have the high global warming potential (GWP), making it extraordinarily potent. However, it is carbon dioxide that is the primary greenhouse gas—accounting for over 81% of all U.S. greenhouse gases from human activities.3 For the ease of measuring greenhouse gases, the standard unit of measure is metric tons of CO2 equivalent (or MTCO2e). For any quantity and type of greenhouse gas, CO2e signifies the amount of CO2 which would have the equivalent global warming impact.

Sources of greenhouse gases

Greenhouse Gas (Emitted) Anthropogenic Sources 3
Carbon dioxide (CO2)
Fossil fuel combustion, land use conversion, cement production
Methane (CH4)
Fossil fuels, decay of organic waste in landfills, livestock and other agricultural practices
Nitrous oxide (N2O)
Fertilizer, industrial processes, and combustion of fuels
Fluorinated gases
Industrial processes

Global Trends

Since 1880, the global annual temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.13°F per decade and over twice that rate (+0.32°F) since 1981. With an increasing rate of global annual temperature, it makes sense that the five warmest years in the 1880–2019 record have all occurred since 2015, while nine of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 2005. The year 2016 has been the warmest year on record and 2020 was the second warmest year on record. Data from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Climactic Data Center (NCDC) that support this.

Local Trends

Local trend data derived from temperature and precipitation readings between 1895 and 2020 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show an increase in both average annual temperature and total annual precipitation for all counties in the planning area.

Averaging these trends across the 10 counties in the planning area, annual average temperature has increased 1.25°F per century. Annual precipitation has increased 3.47 inches per century. The charts below show average annual temperature and total annual precipitation and the trendline from 1895-2020 for Jackson County, Missouri.

Precipitation

Recent and projected increases in annual precipitation for the Kansas City area are substantial, with concentrated seasonal rainfall during extreme events for both spring and fall, while the length of consecutive dry days will increase substantially in summer months.

Extending current trends to 2100:

  • Average annual precipitation will increase from 38.8
    inches to 44.6 inches per year.
  • Maximum one-day precipitation will increase from 3.4 to 4.0 inches, while 5-day and 15-day precipitation will increase from 5.5 to 7.0 inches and 7.5 to 10.4 inches, respectively.
  • The number of days with more than 1.5 inches of
    precipitation will increase from 5.0 to 9.3.
  • The maximum number of consecutive dry days will
    increase from 30.9 to 39.5 days/year.
Average annual precipitation

Temperature

While recent changes in temperatures observed in Kansas City have been relatively modest, temperature is projected to increase substantially in all seasons over the remainder of this century. Heat waves will become more frequent and summer overnight lows will become hotter.

If current trends continue, by 2100:

  • The average annual temperature will increase from 56.5 degrees to 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The number of days/year in which the temperature exceeds 105 degrees Fahrenheit will increase from 0.7 to 21.9.
  • The number of cooling degree days, a reflection of the demand for energy needed to cool a building, will nearly double.
  • Conversely, energy demand for heating will decline by 27%.
  • The last spring frost is projected to be more than two weeks earlier, whereas the first fall frost will occur about 11 days later.

Projected changes in temperature and precipitation extremes can be expected to increase demand for summertime cooling, degrade local air quality and place additional stress on water supply systems, wastewater and stormwater management systems, and flood control efforts. Near-term climate resilience efforts might be best focused on water systems than on heat adaptation because changes in rainfall are already present and expected to continue, while rising temperatures are an emergent change.

Another report, “Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States,” suggests increased heat will lead to an increase of 5.3% in violent crime solely due to higher temperatures, decreased labor productivity of 2.3% and increased energy demand of 8% to 19%.

Potential impacts of climate change in the region

  • Decreased air quality
  • Decreased water quality
  • More heat stress for crops and livestock
  • Wider spread of pests
  • Loss of tree canopy
  • Declining biodiversity and ecosystems
  • Increased severe weather damages to building and infrastructure
  • Impaired performance and longevity of buildings and infrastructure
  • Intensified urban heat island effect
  • Increased pressure on urban drainage systems
  • Increased heating and air conditioning load
  • Disrupted transportation and communication networks
  • Increased asthma and other respiratory diseases due to pollution
  • Increased respiratory allergies
  • Increase heat-related illness or deaths
  • Increase injuries and fatalities due to severe weather
  • Increased water-, air- and vector-borne diseases
  • Malnutrition
  • Decreased work capacity
  • Increased conflict and crime
  • Mental health and stressrelated illnesses
  • Reduced physical activity