NJ Climatologist Connects May’s Wet Weather to Climate Change

For the past 27 years, Dr. David Robinson, a “distinguished” professor in the Geography Department at Rutgers University, has served as the New Jersey state climatologist. This makes him the longest-serving state climatologist among the 39 states with such a titled position. It also makes him the person most responsible for convincing a sometimes-skeptical public that climate change is real, and mainly caused by human behavior.

“The most heartening thing is I never imagined I’d get paid to do something I enjoy so much,” he said. “The frustration is people who choose not to buy this because they have agendas of their own.”

One notable impact of climate change was New Jersey’s unusually wet May. Professor Robinson stated that last May was New Jersey’s ninth wettest since record-keeping started in 1895. Average May rainfall in New Jersey is about 4 inches, but last month the area experienced 6.70 inches of precipitation. 

“It hasn’t just been the amount of rain. It has also been the frequency,” Dr. Robinson said. 

This past May, rainfall occurred somewhere in New Jersey for all but two days. For six days of the month, a portion of the state received more than an inch of rainfall. In central New Jersey, 19 days saw precipitation of 0.01 inches or more. 

“The northern climate division is more impressive, ranking third wettest with 8.69 inches of precipitation – 4.35 inches above average,” Professor Robinson, a resident of Somerset, said. “This includes Hunterdon, Somerset and Union counties northward. A weather station in Lebanon, Hunterdon County, was deluged with 12.77 inches, while the Atlantic City Marina station saw the least, with 3.43 inches.”

Rainfall appears to be less extreme this June and temperatures are generally average. Professor Robinson said that June has seen a slight turn to warmer than average readings, but he added that there is no sign of exceptionally hot weather on the near horizon. 

According to Dr. Robinson, May’s above average warmth and rainfall continues a streak that is more than a year long. In New Jersey, of the last 12 months, nine have seen above average precipitation. Above average temperatures mark 10 of the last 12 months and three of those months land among the top four averages extending back 125 years. 

“Without question, the warmth of recent years is associated with human-induced climate change brought on by the burning of fossil fuels and the result emission of greenhouse gases,” Dr. Robinson said.   

He speculates that there is a connection between the changing climate and the wetter conditions New Jersey has seen in decades past, including flooding.  Professor Robinson explained that warmer air can hold more water vapor, contributing to increased precipitation. He said that the rainfall could also be due to intensified evaporation from warming oceans, among them the Atlantic. 

Projections made at Rutgers University suggest that sea levels could rise a foot by mid-century and three feet by late century.  There is a small chance that sea levels could rise six feet by 2100. 

“A six-foot end of century rise would be incredibly impactful for Atlantic City and all the Jersey shore,” Professor Robinson said. “Three feet would bring tremendous challenges as well.”

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