Students gather on Libe Slope to relax on a sunny afternoon.

Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Students gather on Libe Slope to relax on a sunny afternoon.

September 11, 2018

Cornell Climate Specialists Weigh In On High Temperatures at Start of Semester

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It is dogma for Cornellians to complain about the cold — but in a display of their ability to see both sides of an issue, many also grumbled about the heat last week. These protests, however, might be justified in response to what experts believe to be above-average heat and humidity for the month of September in Ithaca.

According to CNN, 2018 is on track to be the fourth-hottest year on record, behind 2015, 2016 and 2017. The Sun asked several Cornell professors in climate science and facilities staff about how the current heat in Ithaca stacks up, and what the administration plans to do about it.

Jessica Spaccio, a climatologist and researcher in the department of earth and atmospheric sciences, has crunched some numbers on the first two weeks of classes, from August 23- September 6, using weather data collected at Cornell since 1893.

According to Spaccio, “the average temperature was 71.2 [degrees Fahrenheit,] which ranks as 9th warmest, and is above the normal 65.5 degrees,” and “there have been 3 days that reached 90, which ranks 7th most days for the time period, tied with other years.”

The average high and low temperatures were also high compared to the other 124 years included in the data. The average high came in at 15th highest at 81.6 degrees, and the average low is 6th overall at 60.7 degrees.

Though heat and humidity typically go hand in hand in upstate New York, this year was especially wet according to measures of the number of hours the dew point remained above 70 degrees, which was over 400 this year compared to an average of 128 over the period from July 1996 to 2017.

According to data collected from July 1996 to 2017,“the number for this year is well above the others! Meaning it’s been a very humid year,” Spaccio said in an email to The Sun.

The overall trends in weather are reflected in campus facilities management, according to Joshua LaPenna, director of utilities production.

“Yearly weather patterns can fluctuate quite a bit from one year to another, but the macroscopic trend in outside air temperature shows that less heating is required to heat buildings in the winter and more cooling is needed to cool buildings in the summer,” LaPenna explained.

While it is not yet clear whether the decreased energy use on winter heating is greater than the increase needed for summer cooling, the overall trend might work to Cornell’s advantage because of the efficiency of the Lake Source Cooling facility — a Cornell initiative to implement sustainability measures — according to LaPenna.

The LSC was constructed in 2000 and “reduced Cornell’s energy use to cool campus by 86 percent and operates at an efficiency that is seven to eight times more efficient than an air sourced heat pump,” LaPenna said in an email to The Sun. “For us, a move towards more cooling generally means we use less energy overall.”

The weather also influences decision-making for future energy allocations to campus facilities, as energy budgets for each building are determined “based on a rolling average of weather patterns,” and “guide decisions for prioritizing building upgrades,” LaPenna said.

One solution to tackling energy waste is the Energy Conservation Controls Team, which monitors buildings daily and works to commission new energy control systems. Buildings on campus are equipped with chilled water, heat, and electric meters.

“We monitor all buildings on campus for energy use and focus our energy-efficiency efforts on buildings that are not performing to our standards,” LaPenna said. Many campus energy-reduction goals are tied to the Climate Action Plan, which seeks to make Cornell carbon neutral by 2035.