Northern Neck Vulnerabilities to Climate Change

September 19, 2016

 

We are very fortunate that we live here in the Northern Neck. Although we are less impacted by various aspects of ongoing climate change than many other places in the U.S., we are still vulnerable to many by-products. Following is a summary of our vulnerabilities.

  1. Downpours: Heavy, sustained rainstorms like those that hit Ellicott City, MD and Louisiana are forecast for Virginia and are expected to increase. Warmer air holds more water. People living downstream of ponds with earthen dams are at risk as well as those near low areas away from the shorelines. Erosion is a concern. 

  2. Hurricanes: The forecast is for the annual number of hurricanes to stay constant or decrease slightly; however, the intensity is expected to increase due to the larger temperature differentials occurring as ocean waters continue to grow warmer. We must keep prepared for hurricanes and severe northeasters. 

  3. Heat Waves: Currently we get approximately 20 to 22 days with temperatures over 90º F each summer. Projections are that this number will triple by mid-century and be accompanied by increasing humidity. Additional cooling stations will be needed and outdoor activities will be increasingly limited.

  4. Recurring Flooding: The VIMS Report on Recurrent Flooding showed that 25 miles of roads in Northumberland County are expected to be subject to recurrent flooding in 30 to 50 years. The impact of increasing sea level rise plus land subsidence results in an increase in the number of days of tidal flooding in Lewisetta, for example, to nearly 350 times per year by 2045, including every high tide. 

  5. Sea Level Rise and Storm Surge: The VIMS Study also recommended that communities in Virginia plan for 1.5 feet of sea level rise plus 3.0 feet of storm surge when designing new housing or infrastructure near the water with a life of 30 years. Actual storm surge during recent hurricanes has been over 4 feet. 

  6. Bay and River Warming: The Chesapeake Bay is warming as is the Atlantic Ocean. This impacts the ocean life in many unpredictable ways. Some fish are moving northward into the Bay while others are seeking cooler waters as the temperatures and food supplies change. 

  7. Bay and Tidal River Acidification: The pH of the oceans is changing and becoming more acidic as the water absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere and from acid rain. Fertilizer in runoff into the Bay exacerbates the effects of acidification. If the water gets too acidic, it interferes with the chemistry of shell building in oysters and other shell fish. 

  8. Forest Fires and Droughts: While other parts of the U.S. are suffering from droughts and forest fires, these are not an anticipated direct problem of Virginia. However, we are impacted secondarily as arable land decreases and crops of all kinds are diminished.

Some of these vulnerabilities we can adapt to, others we can work around, and others depend upon significant mitigation efforts worldwide. For nearly 30 years Congress has ignored warnings from our scientific community, so most of these vulnerabilities are “locked-in” and will only get more severe in the last half of this century. Then, the Northern Neck, as elsewhere in Virginia, will not be such a comfortable place to live. The principal, effective mitigation strategy involves putting a price on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and reducing emissions.

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