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Heavy rains becoming more prevalent in New York, AG's report says

Herbert Scott, of Medford, sits atop his car

Herbert Scott, of Medford, sits atop his car on flooded Penataquit Avenue in Bay Shore on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. Credit: Ed Betz

The record rainfall that submerged parts of Long Island last month is an example of a broader trend of extreme precipitation events in New York, according to a report being released Wednesday by the state attorney general's office.

The report draws upon data from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University to paint a picture of an increasing trend of heavy rainfall.

"The best-available scientific projections of precipitation trends suggest that extreme rainfall events will continue into the future -- more of them and more often," the report reads.

The report, which Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman will present at a talk at Pace University in Manhattan Wednesday, found that heavy rainfall has substantially increased in New York since the mid-90s. It also found that so-called 100-year storms have been happening every 60 years between 1978 and 2007.

Five of the top 10 24-hour rainfall events in New York since 2009 occurred on Long Island, including the record 13.57-inch rainfall on Aug. 13 that deluged parts of Suffolk County.

"This is what we're seeing now," said Lemuel Srolovic, chief of the attorney general's Environmental Protection Bureau, who called last month's rain "a window" into the damage that extreme rainfall can cause.

The National Climate Assessment, issued this year by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, also found that heavy rainfall events have become more heavy and more frequent, especially in the Northeast.

"Just looking at historical data, we've already seen an increase in extreme events," said Jessica Spaccio, a climatologist with NOAA's Northeast Regional Climate Center. "With climate change, we expect this to continue."

Spaccio said warmer temperatures allow for more water to be stored in the atmosphere.

"We have more water in the atmosphere, more of that can precipitate into rain, more chances of these extreme events," she said.

Staving off the worst effects of climate change comes down to cutting carbon emissions, she said.

"If we have higher emissions, we're looking at worst-case scenarios," Spaccio said. "If we can curb our emissions, we will look at a better situation."

The report calls for a reduction in greenhouse gases in New York through a reduced reliance on fossil fuels and encouraging designers to consider heavy rainfall when developing new projects.

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