Large algae blooms spreading in the James River due to drought

Large algae blooms spreading in the James River due to drought
Algae blooms are usually common in July and August, not fall. (Source: NBC12)

The fall foliage may be dull, but parts of the James River are slightly brighter this October thanks to the “flash drought” that has gripped much of the Southeast for the past month.

East of Hopewell, the largest blooms of algae detected in the James in several years are spreading as a lack of precipitation and higher-than-normal temperatures combine to produce ideal conditions for the organisms.

“Typically the biggest blooms are in July and August,” said Paul Bukaveckas, an ecologist with Virginia Commonwealth University. “Whereas here we saw the bloom expanding through September and continuing to grow.”

That pattern is out of the ordinary for a region where September usually ushers in cooler temperatures and several inches of rain. But it may become more common as climate change drives temperatures upward and makes weather more erratic.

“Higher temperatures and less consistent precipitation patterns driven by climate change are making extreme weather like droughts more prevalent around the world, and Virginia is no exception,” Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler said in a drought watch advisory issued by Gov. Ralph Northam on Oct. 11.