Virginia 2050 Forecast

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all our friends in Virginia.  Now, this is a state where we already have serious challenges related to high tide flooding.  Let’s check that out- here on Page 768, we can see how that flooding has shifted.  High tide flooding is now posing daily risks to businesses, neighborhoods, infrastructure, transportation.  Why is the high tide flooding a big emerging problem?  

This flooding, it’s because Virginia is very vulnerable to sea level rise.  Let’s check it out in the NOAA sea level rise viewer.

The lower and upper bounds for sea level rise in this area are 2.5-10 ft by 2100.  That 10 ft, we’re not likely to go there, I’ve seen 5ft as a more likely worst case scenario by 2100, and if we can get on a modest reduced emissions pathway, 3 to 3.5ft would be likely by the end of the century.  So for 2050, we’re going to look at 2-3 feet scenarios. 

You can see from the overhead view that in Virginia, we will definitely feel the effects of sea level rise.  There are major direct impacts on landscapes, recreation, natural areas.  High rate of beach loss.  Loss of marginal area, a lot of the sea and land area is turning to sea area.  This is all causing just a transformation of Virginia Beach, and there are many communities in this area that are already experiencing the impacts of this. 

As we’d expect, with all that coastal transformation and transition right up against the housing stock, we find that these communities are already substantially more vulnerable to storm surge and tidal flooding, and there is no reasonable person who doesn’t anticipate that this problem is going to get worse over the next 20-30 years.  Just as a reality check for how bad it already is today, in Portsmouth, Virginia, one-third of residents report flooding in their neighborhoods at least a couple of times a year, and nearly half of residents were not able to get in or out of their neighborhoods at least once within the past year due to high tide flooding.

So these communities are starting to make plans.  Let’s look at Norfolk, Virginia.  The naval base there is considered particularly vulnerable.  Repeated flooding is making some homes there unsellable.  So they aren’t going to continue with business as usual, they are going to transform the shape of their community.  Page 345 to see action map.  Hampton Roads also has flooding plan.

So this is all serious, it is going to cause communities to transform, and it is going to cause some people to want to or need to move.  And that’s just looking at the housing impacts.  But these changes to the coastline, they also have potential for impacts on inland freshwater systems.  There will be potential for saltwater to run into freshwater in new ways, for current freshwater systems to become estuaries.  This could impact drinking water and agriculture, you might imagine in negative ways, but I think it’s worth considering the potential for habitat creation, too.  I mean, we are looking at the loss of these incredibly naturally rich areas in today’s estuaries, lots of birds and shellfish and other living things depend on that marginal habitat, that place where the land and sea because their own shifting thing.  Helping the new estuaries grow, I think this is an interesting opportunity.  Not the sort of career that exists today, but these estuaries are natural areas with high habitat value, high food value, high ecotourism value.  I’m not saying this level of landscape shift is a positive, but every change brings opportunities, and I do think this opportunity, what we might call assisted estuary migration, is one that not many people are considering.

Here on the coast, we do like to consider the potential for hurricane impacts, let’s look at some of the future modeling for hurricane patterns.  Look at 1492, see what you think.

            Let’s pull in for a second.  We’re definitely talking about big changes to the coastal areas, just in terms of geography alone, but let’s build up a richer picture of what Virginia as a whole state will be like.  We know a heatup is coming, it is already getting hotter, and Virginia is pretty ahead of the curve on the response.  For example, Virginia DOT has dedicated crews who quickly repair roads during extreme heat events.  This is a state that is adapting their infrastructure along with the changes.  Let’s see how hot we might expect it to get by 2050.

Heat- some conservation in the mountains, about another month of days over 86 in the rest of the state.  Pretty even heatup, almost no one will be getting substantially more than a month of gains. 

Nighttime warming- good in that conservation pocket, but looking hotter at night in quite a few of our more densely populated areas.  That means Virginia is going to have increased energy demand round the clock in the state in the summer.  When we see these sorts of heat increases, particularly in urban areas like by DC, we need to be thinking power infrastructure, and probably also thinking about how you could develop some power independence.

Looking away from the heat, let’s check out plant hardiness zones as a proxy for winter lows.  We can see some HARDI- pretty substantial changes.  Little pocket there near but not at the western tip of the state is seeing good winter and decent summer conservation, that’s a nice spot to watch.  Quite a few small communities are in this conservation zone if you look on google maps. 

Much of that part of the coastal plain experiencing increased summer heat will also be experiencing milder winters, too, as you can see, moving towards a solid zone 8, giving a feeling much more like Myrtle Beach today.  That’s true for DC as well, worth pointing out. 

With these changes, you can expect to see more sea turtles coming into the coastal areas, trying to nest.  Their reproduction is intensely impacted by temperature.  Their eggs become male or female depending on temperature- pretty wild, right?  If it gets too warm in their nesting sites, all the babies are female.  So any turtles that lay eggs high enough north for the babies to be male, those males are going to have a disproportionate genetic impact on the population.  As we talk about beaches that are historically north of turtle range, I figure you might want to know why those new nests are particularly important to the survival of sea turtles.  As we think about beach conservation, we should be thinking about them.

Let’s add one more piece of information to this forecast, look at flooding rains, which have already been a big problem in parts of the state, and really quite serious over in West Virginia.

Heavy precipitation- still looking like a nice conservation region right there, that’s a good place to watch.  We can see it’s looking much wetter up by DC, big deluge type storms.  And here we can see the wet and dry side of the mountains, as we’ve seen in other states in Appalachia.

So, let’s pull this together a bit.  Virginia has a challenging outlook, but it varies intensely within the state.  I showed you that conservation sweet spot, over in the western, mountainous part of the state.  I’m not saying living is easy there now, I’m saying that it’s going to change less, probably much less, there than it will in other places. 

If we’re talking about the DC suburbs, we’re looking at a likely serious increase in extreme rains, as well as substantial daytime and nighttime warming, meaning that an infrastructure upgrade will be essential. 

Down by Virginia Beach, we have communities like Norfolk and Portsmouth that are already seeing the impacts of sea level rise on their homes.  These communities are making plans to restructure their cities, because they’ll need to.  You’re not necessarily looking at an awful climate, it’ll be different, like South Carolina, but that’s not a climate people necessarily dislike.  But between the changes to the climate, and the changes to the coastline, that part of the state will feel very different by 2050 than it does today.  Big market there for flood mitigation services, and I think there will be interesting opportunities related to estuary development. 

Who’s your big winner in terms of relative urban stability?  Richmond.  Not such an intense projected change in precipitation, not such a severe flooding outlook from the changes to the sea, your challenge is reduced to just the heat.

If I’m gonna call opportunities, for people like me, who like a little more breathing room, nice outlook in that western area.  And I think the lack of flooding in Richmond will make that area very attractive to people who are relocating from the Virginia Beach area.  It’s not so far away, it’s pretty stable, it gives a good fallback position, and it’s nice there.  Cool town.

I want to show you one more thing, back in the sea level rise viewer.  Now, people, most of them, they care most about the place they’re in.  If we don’t reduce emissions, if we end up with 6 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, you can see that DC is going to be very messed up.  All the memorial sites, all this emotionally resonant stuff, the museum basements, very big problems.  Unmanageable.  The pressure to go down the 4.5 pathway will come from the personal experiences of the political class as much as anything else.  You can see, if we don’t reduce emissions, where are they gonna golf?

This is Dr. Schoerning with AR, signing out.  Please like and subscribe, help get the message out there.  There is hope.  We can prepare for what’s coming.  Let’s get ready.