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Forum Spotlights Severe Weather Response

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From unseasonably cold winters to dangerous summer floods, New York has faced severe weather year-round recently. On Thursday, a statewide public forum is planned to assess and address severe weather issues. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley spoke with some of the organizers.
The forum called “Facing the Storm: Severe Weather Challenges Confronting New York State in the 21st Century” is coordinated by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, the University at Albany’s Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the New York State Emergency Management Association. The goal is to learn from past severe storms how to prepare for and mitigate future storms.
The first part of the forum will be video-conferenced to sites statewide according to Rockefeller Institute  Deputy Director Bob Bullock.   “It really began last year. We had put on our first program “Facing the Storm” and at the end of the forum people had said we need this information more and we need it more regularly, and moreover is it possible for you to actually move this out around the state?  And so working with Cisco, the global technology company, this year we’re connecting Stoney Brook University, SUNY New Paltz, the University at Albany, SUNY Plattsburgh,  SUNY Potsdam, the SUNY College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry in Syracuse and SUNY Oswego, all participating in the same event at the same time.”

A recent study showed that over the past 50 years, there has been a 74 percent increase in the Northeast in the number of intense rainfall events. Climate change projections suggest that trend will continue, according to University at Albany’s Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences chair Chris Thorncroft.   “It’s very important to realize that this situation could get worse. When the atmosphere warms up, as it has done, there will be more water vapor,  more water in the atmosphere.  Generally when there’s more water in the atmosphere you can get more intense systems. So we need to be prepared for that. So then that brings you to thinking about mitigation projects and how can we observe the weather? How can we better predict the weather? But also how do we use that weather information sensibly to make good decisions to save lives and property foremost?  But also there’s an economic impact to the weather too. The upshot is we’ve seen extreme weather increasing. We likely will have more. So we should be  prepared for that.”

SUNY Plattsburgh is one of the sites participating in the Facing The Storm forum. Following the statewide broadcast from Albany, Keith Tyo, the assistant to the college president, says they will follow up with a local panel.   “We’ve reached out to emergency managers across Clinton, Franklin and Essex counties. We’ve reached out to political leaders in addition to school district officials, because they have to face the weather when they send the busses out. So we’re hoping that we’ll have a good group of individuals attending the forum and asking questions during that last hour. The first hour will be broadcast from the University at Albany. That begins at 9:30 and then at 10:30 we’ll have a local panel who will discuss severe weather as well.”

Bullock adds.   “One of the selling points of this program truly was creating an opportunity to really dig into the local.”

Last year  Governor Cuomo proposed an $18.7 million statewide state-of-the-art weather monitoring system. Thorncroft says the forum is meant to promote the roll out of the system.   “We are going to be deploying 125 automatic weather stations across the state filling currently very large gaps that exist. This will be a game changer. Seventeen of the sites will be so-called enhanced sites where they have instruments that’ll probe the lower part of the atmosphere and continuously monitor temperature, wind, humidity. This is not seen in any other statewide Mesonet. Also important for this part of the world is the amazing fact that there are no snowpack measurements currently being made in the Adirondacks. There are such measurements being made in the Catskills because there’s a strong link between snowpack and water resources and the city. And knowing how much snow in the Adirondacks is going to be an important risk factor for flooding. In addition the 125 sites will also have measurements that are not made anywhere at the moment. We’ll have soil moisture measurements. That’s important for flood risk, again, and runoff. The state needs this project.  The network should be up and running by the end of next year.”

The University at Albany’s Thorncroft is excited that the upcoming forum could help people understand weather risk and forecast probabilities.   “Understanding the weather, knowing how to interpret forecasts, knowing how to interpret risk analysis from forecasts and knowing what decision to make that’s a big motivating factor for this conference, I think. Getting those messages out from the experts that know what they’re talking about.”

Call 518-443-5837 for information and pre-registration.

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