What’s happening in Erie? 

Erie County, Pennsylvania, which includes 76 miles of Lake Erie shoreline, Presque Isle State Park, the City of Erie, and eight other coastal municipalities, is becoming increasingly vulnerable to both the short and long-term impacts of extreme weather and climate variability (Erie County Hazard Mitigation Plan, 2018). Examples of these extremes occurred in 2017: the County experienced a record rainfall event of 8.46 inches in June (GoErie.com, 2017); a November tornado ripped through downtown Erie, devastating homes and businesses; and winter brought a record 166 inches of snow fall to the area, including a record-shattering storm that dumped 33 inches of snow in just 24 hours (National Weather Service, 2018). High winds and an increase in Lake Erie’s winter ice cover resulted in ice shoves and coastal damage. Each of these extreme weather events has resulted in costs to economic prosperity, personal property, the health and welfare of individuals, and to the sense of certainty and safety in local communities.

Overcoming these events and rising above in the aftermath has become the ‘new normal’ for residents and businesses as they repair damage to homes and infrastructure, deal with loss of revenue, and try to repair natural impacts such as erosion and coastal damage to land and freshwater resources. To assist Erie decision-makers in better planning and preparing for extreme weather, CRANE has been working with the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences Assessment Center (GLISA) to produce a series of papers that summarize the best available research on the observed and projected changes that could impact our region.

Table 1. below shows historical averages, historical changes, and projected changes into mid-and-late century for precipitation totals and extreme precipitation events in Northeast Pennsylvania. With the historical time period of 1951-2019 as a reference, annual precipitation in Erie has increased by 23.5%. 


Table 2 shows historical average, historical change, and mid-to-late Century projections for temperatures and hot and cold days in Northwestern Pennsylvania. With the historical time period of 1951-2019 as a reference, annual temperatures in Erie have risen 2.9 degrees F. 

thermometer icon
Average temperatures are expected to increase by 6.4-9.6 degrees by the end of the century.

heat wavesHeat waves could occur up to three times per year by the end of the century.

rain iconPrecipitation is expected to change seasonally, with more precipitation in the winter and more drought in the summer. When precipitation does occur in the summer, it’s expected to be in the form of storm events that could cause heavy flooding.

rain black cloud with raindrops falling down iconExtreme weather events are expected to increase.

snowflake iconSnow cover in Pennsylvania is expected to shrink; although Erie could experience more lake-effect snow if the Lake doesn’t freeze over

These changes could present a number of risks in the Erie area, including those related to public health, tourism, and infrastructure. All which have a significant potential for economic impact.

Public Health Risks

Given a poverty rate of 30% and an aging population, residents of the City of Erie are particularly vulnerable to extreme heat events and the associated increases in ground-level air pollution that can accompany a prolonged heat wave. Changes to the local climate also increase the risk of diseases such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease, both of which are on the increase in the area. Severe weather events also result in greater risks of physical injury.

Impacts to Tourism

Tourism in the Erie area depends in large part on the health of our natural environment. Warmer lake waters and the runoff associated with more intense storms may contribute to e-coli and algae blooms, potentially increasing swimming advisories and impacting heavily visited Presque Isle beaches. The world class fishing in Lake Erie and its tributaries are likely to be adversely impacted by warmer water temperatures, low and high stream flows associated with drought and intense storms, increased competition from invasive species and the development of seasonal ‘dead zones’ in the Lake. Warmer winters will impact winter sports such as ice fishing, snowmobiling, and skiing in the region. Each of these changes carries a potential for a negative economic impact on Erie and the region.

Impacts to Infrastructure

Local infrastructure is also at risk from climate-related changes. Water supply and sewer services are vulnerable to both extreme drought and precipitation events as highlighted by a workshop hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Erie Water Works in August 2012 to discuss extreme weather event impacts and adaptation planning. The workshop identified a number of actual and prospective risks and the value of anticipating solutions. As noted in the draft Workshop Report [page 14], “participants identified adaptation options and determined next steps that can be taken today to ensure greater resilience to impacts associated with projected changing weather patterns such as: reduced water quality from increased turbidity and algal blooms, changing lake levels, and impacts associated with power outages.”

Impacts to Agriculture

The impacts on local agriculture from the widespread drought conditions throughout much of the country this past summer were relatively mild, nevertheless, many families who rely on well water suffered significant water supply problems. Although spared drought conditions in 2012, early spring warmth and subsequent hard freezes have had a substantial impact on local agricultural interests including vineyards, fruit orchards and maple syrup producers.

Other Impacts

Extreme weather events (rain, snow or ice storms) are likely to result in significant and more frequent damage to transportation and energy distribution systems. As a result, our emergency management systems are likely to be asked to respond to conditions that exceed past experience in frequency and severity. The trend towards less winter ice on Lake Erie and protective ice dunes along the shore will expose more of Presque Isle’s beaches to erosion. Finally, lower lake levels will have an adverse impact on Great Lakes shipping by reducing the weight ships can carry and could require expensive remedial costs for the Port of Erie and local marinas.