Two recent reports highlight the effects of a changing climate in Virginia, from hotter temperatures to stronger storms.
According to a draft report by the National Climate and Development Advisory Committee, a group representing both the public and private sectors, Virginia and other parts of the southeast will continue to experience a higher number of extreme weather patterns in the coming decades if the climate continues to warm.
2012 is believed to have been the hottest year on record in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Virginia experienced 38 record-breaking extreme weather events in 2012, according to an analysis of NOAA data by the National Resources Defense Council that was released last week.
“2012’s unparalleled record-setting heat demonstrates what climate change looks like,” said Kim Knowlton, senior scientist with the National Resources Defense Council. “This extreme weather has awoken communities across the country to the need for preparedness and protection.”
Sarah Bucci, a federal field organizer with Environment Virginia, said the weather events in recent years have helped build support in the state for federal and state-level action on environmental protection issues.
For example, “we have seen record numbers of Virginians coming out in support of carbon limits for power plants,” she said.
The National Climate and Development Advisory Committee draft report, which was released Jan. 11, takes an in-depth look at the effects of major weather events in the United States in the recent past and projects the impact of future events.
The analysis projects that Northern Virginia, like the rest of the southeast, will continue to see an increase in the average number of hot days and a decrease in the number of freezing days.
Between 1971 and 2000, there were 0 to 10 days per year in Northern Virginia with temperatures above 95 degrees; between 2041 and 2070, the region is expected to average 15 to 30 hot days per year.
The report also projects a similar decline in the number of days with temperatures below freezing.
The potential effects of higher temperatures include an increase in forest pests, damage to infrastructure and health impacts.
“Higher temperatures also contribute to the formation of harmful air pollutants and allergens,” the report states. “A rise in hospital admissions due to respiratory illnesses, emergency room visits for asthma, and lost school days is expected.”
Bucci notes that extreme weather events often come with an economic impact. In Virginia, the port in southeastern Virginia, as well as some residential areas of Virginia Beach, are considered highly vulnerable to rising sea level.
In Fairfax County, Bucci notes, the Virginia Department of Transportation had to spend tens of millions of dollars repairing roads and bridges after the flooding from Tropical Storm Lee.
“We can expect to see more of these problems continue into the future if we do nothing,” Bucci said.
Virginia experienced more than 25 weather events between 1980 and 2011 that cost more than $1 billion to clean up, according to the draft report.
“The southeast has experienced more billion-dollar disasters than any other region,” the report states. The “southeast,” for purposes of the report, extends west to Texas and Oklahoma and also includes the Caribbean.
The draft National Climate Assessment report is now open for public review and comment through mid-April. The National Academies of Sciences is also reviewing the report, which is available at ncadac.globalchange.gov.