Virginia’s climatic changes have been thoroughly documented over recent decades. The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence predicts that climate change will continue and may accelerate unless strong action is taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change threatens serious harm to Virginia’s economy, its people and its treasured natural resources. Virginia’s political leaders should promote vigorous state, national and international policies to halt global warming. Virginia’s current leadership, both in government and in the private sector, should take up this mission.
Although Virginia has experienced a relatively moderate rate of climate change compared to many other parts of the country over the past century as a whole, the speed and scale of climatic changes has gained momentum and has been accelerating throughout the last 50 years. Warming has occurred across the state, mostly during the winter months, when average temperatures rose about one degree C. Precipitation patterns also changed: summer rainfall declined on average by 0.50mm/day but in the fall months, precipitation increased by about the same amount. Correspondingly, there were more days of intense precipitation and precipitation became more variable, with greater frequency of both wet and dry periods, including the pronounced drought of 2010.
All regional climate models project rising temperatures over coming decades. Annual average temperatures are expected to rise by three to four degrees centigrade over this century and possibly much more if emission levels continue to grow rapidly, with corresponding increases in both maximum and minimum temperatures. Overall precipitation is expected to increase by about ten percent and some models forecast that most of the increase will occur during the summer. The number of hot and humid days and the corresponding “misery index” will climb substantially. There are likely to be more heat waves like the one that Virginia suffered in the summer of 2011. Virginia’s seasons will change: spring will come earlier, summer will last longer into the fall and winters will be milder.
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