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  • Pamela Adams

Understanding the Climate Impacts in the Centre Region

Pamela Adams, Centre Regional Planning Agency

Climate change impacts everyone and those impacts are increasing in frequency and intensity. However, climate change will not affect everyone equally. Some people, animals, and habitats will be more at risk than others. Impacts range from minor (seasonal comfort levels or a longer allergy season) to major (such as property damage, disruption of essential services, and gradual shifts in ecosystems). This article looks at how our climate is changing, identifies our vulnerabilities, and touches on solutions. It relies heavily on reports from scientists and subject matter experts, in particular the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) “Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment 2021” 3 and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) “Climate Report: Adaptation and Mitigation” 5.

Climate Changes

The most prevalent climate changes for Central PA will be warming temperatures and an increased fluctuation in precipitation, with a trend towards more extreme rain events.

Pennsylvania is already experiencing a warmer climate. Summer heat waves and temperature swings at odd seasonal time periods will continue to disrupt ecosystems, habitats, and agricultural activities. Between 2000 and 2020, Pennsylvania’s average temperature rose 1.2°F 3. Projections are that by 2100 State College summers will feel like those in Central Florida 2. Temperatures will continue to be variable year-to-year, but the average temperature is trending upward. Average annual temperature in Pennsylvania is expected to increase by 5.9°F by mid-century. And the number of days, greater than 90°, will increase 3.

The Northeast has experienced a greater recent increase in extreme precipitation than any other region in the U.S.; between 1958 and 2016, the Northeast experienced more than a 55% increase in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events 1. Extreme precipitation events are defined as above the 99th percentile of daily value. The watershed should expect to 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 3. This puts a burden on infrastructure and disrupts economic, social, and environmental systems.

Climate Vulnerabilities

Many of the Centre Region’s natural systems and surrounding natural areas will be impacted by climate change, threatening the ecosystem services they provide, such as water filtration, flood abatement, pollination, recreation, and fire protection. Impacts are already present in species like Hemlocks. Importantly, the effects of climate change on natural systems are interrelated and may compound each other; for example, if Central Pennsylvania experiences a significant drought in the future, it will increase the risk of wildfires. Changes in temperature, snowpack, and the growth of diseases and pests will stress sensitive streams, plants, wildlife, and ecosystems.

Warmer water temperatures will result from warmer air temperatures and changing hydrologic patterns. All of our streams and lakes will be affected by increases in temperatures and altered hydrologic patterns. Coldwater streams in our region are likely to be most influenced by warming. The distribution and density of brook trout along with other organisms adapted to coldwater streams will be most negatively affected. Higher water temperatures can lead to changes in acidification, dissolved oxygen levels, productivity, destratification, and more, potentially resulting in a reduction or shift in keystone species5. Species that require cooler climates, such as the brook trout, are at greater risk than those suited to warmer climates.

Nonpoint pollution will increase with more extreme rain events. Increased frequency, intensity, and variability of these events will have negative impacts on the watershed. The increased runoff associated with heavy rain events may affect water quality through increasing pathogen loads (e.g., through runoff from livestock farms, sewer overflows, and resuspension of pathogens in river sediments due to water turbulence in intense storms) and increasing risks of eutrophication and harmful algal blooms (e.g., due to greater nutrient availability from runoff) 3.

Pests and pathogens will have a significant impact on trees, wildlife and food crops. Temperature rise, coupled with increased precipitation, are main drivers of vector-borne diseases and pathogens that will negatively impact forests, agriculture, and outdoor recreation. Between 2004 and 2016, the frequency of vector-borne diseases nearly tripled nationally, starting at roughly 27,000 reported cases and increasing to 96,000 in 2016 4.

New invasive species are expected to move throughout the region and those already here will increase in abundance. The problem with invasives is that they reduce the resilience of species and habitats to the impacts of climate change and may reduce diversity or contribute to species extirpation. In aquatic ecosystems, invasive plants and algae increase the potential for choked waterways, fish kills, toxic water, and harmful algae blooms 5.

Riparian areas will face greater risks with warming stream temperatures, erosion and scouring due to heavy rain events, invasive species, and the decline of hemlock, which functions as thermal cover 5. Greater hydrological variability, including more intense and less predictable floods and extreme streamflow, could have significant long-term impacts on wetland and stream communities 3.

Forests of Pennsylvania will be altered by climate change. The effects on the state’s forests range from changing forest composition, loss of tree species, changes in insect and disease pressures, and invasive plants and animals 5.

Increased stress on species experiencing decreasing habitat suitability. This applies particularly to species that are more suited to colder habitats 3.

In addition to the health of our ecosystems, economic aspects of the watershed will be impacted. Spring Creek attracts many visitors to the Centre Region. In addition to the tourism and fishing opportunities, the Region’s potable water is supplied in one way or form from the Spring Creek Aquifer. This aquifer contains approximately 200 billion gallons of water and encompasses 150 square miles. As responsible stewards for our Region, we need to continue to restore, protect and conserve our water supply.

Climate Action and Adaptation

Given the multitude of ways in which a changing climate will impact the Commonwealth and the Centre Region, there are considerable opportunities to prepare for and respond to these changes in ways that can protect and enhance our communities. Solutions for our land and water resources must account for the full extent of our watersheds and will require new and inclusive strategic partnerships supported by thoughtful, ongoing coordination to achieve maximum impact. Failure to coordinate our actions will undermine our efforts and waste time, money, and precious environmental resources.

The Centre Region Governments (CRCOG) and its member municipalities recognize the substantial consequences that climate change poses to our local environment, public health, economy and lifestyles. On November 22, 2021, the COG adopted the Centre Region Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP). This Plan demonstrates a commitment to pragmatic, fiscally responsible actions to reduce the community’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 45% by 2030 and adapt to the changing climate conditions. The Plan is a comprehensive roadmap to accelerate our continued success in building a more healthy, equitable, resilient, and sustainable community. Below are the goals and objectives identified in the CAAP for the water and land sectors.

As evidenced through collaborative efforts across communities and sectors, there is a determination in the Centre Region to identify, address, and to the degree possible, prevent the negative impacts of climate change. Regional efforts are underway to implement the actions identified in the CAAP with four guiding principles:

a) local leadership

b) partnerships

c) social equity

d) resilience and climate preparation.

Dealing with the anticipated effects of climate change poses a major challenge to our region. It will require well-planned, timely, and coordinated action by all levels of government in cooperation with the private sector to effectively respond to a changing climate.

Through the Sustainability Survey completed in 2021, the community showed the most support for identifying and protecting high priority conservation lands by managing flooding 6. The next highest ranked action was to use green infrastructure, such as rain gardens and permeable pavement to better manage impacts of stormwater. In partnership with regional organizations and private landowners, there is a need for preservation and restoration of lands critical to making our community more resilient to extreme weather conditions.

A healthy tree canopy provides many benefits beyond carbon sequestration, which entails capturing and storing atmospheric carbon. Trees and plants remove pollution from the air and reduce run-off. Open spaces and stream corridors define a sense of space in our communities, while providing a quiet respite from hectic urban life. Trees help save energy, reduce noise, and soften the hard edges of structures and paved areas. It is important to identify and plant multiple tree species well selected to thrive in future conditions.

Restoring and protecting our natural systems and areas are necessary as increasing impervious surfaces in urbanized areas intensify stormwater runoff and the urban heat island effect—making us less resilient in the face of extreme weather and climate change. The Centre Region needs to apply best management practices to protect its water resources. Land use, stormwater management, and wastewater collection and conveyance need to be constantly addressed since all three are evolving in different ways.

Healthy natural ecosystems play a significant role in infiltrating stormwater, improving air quality, keeping temperatures cooler on hot days, sustaining healthy food systems, and contributing to the overall resilience of the Centre Region. Collaboration with community partners will guide local government to create policies that can play a key role in protecting ecosystem elements from climate related threats.

The Centre Region’s population is growing, and with a larger population comes new development. The Region’s infrastructure, design and neighborhoods are driven by public investments and land use decisions. Choices made today will last for generations. Sustainable land management practices can protect long term infrastructure and natural resources, while strengthening the community through a more accessible, connected, and resilient Region.

The way the region manages and utilizes its land has an impact on our use of water, transportation, energy and waste. It is imperative to understand these relationships as the Region continues to grow to remain a resilient community.

About the author: Pamela Adams is the Sustainability Planner for the Centre Regional Planning Office.


1. Fourth National Climate Assessment 2018. Key Message 6 Changing U.S. Precipitation.

2. Climate Central. Blistering Future Summers for 1,001 Cities.

3. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment 2021.

4. Rosenberg et al. (2018). Vital Signs: Trends in Reported Vectorborne Disease Cases — United States and Territories, 2004–2016.

5. DCNR. “Climate Report: Adaptation and Mitigation.”

6. Centre Region Sustainability Survey. 2021

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