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Yes, Virginia, we are seeing more — and more intense — rainfall

Climate change risks overwhelming infrastructure
A flooded road outside Richmond.
A flooded road outside Richmond.(Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Published: Aug. 20, 2021 at 6:40 AM EDT
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Record-setting rainfall in 2018. A month’s worth of water-drenched Northern Virginia in an hour in July 2019. Neighborhoods that flood repeatedly in Richmond’s Southside and Petersburg.

In Virginia, conversations about climate change have tended to focus on sea-level rise, the waters that surge up from oceans and coastal rivers to overspill their traditional bounds. But climate change isn’t just driving the waters up. It’s also driving them down, increasing precipitation — and especially the intensity of precipitation — throughout the commonwealth.

“Broadly across Virginia … there seems to be a consensus that there is more water around, and that the storms are heavier and they dump more water when they come, and that’s a problem,” said Ann Phillips, the state’s special assistant to the governor for coastal adaptation and protection. “And that impacts people not every day, but often enough.”

Climate change is affecting precipitation globally, but the impacts aren’t uniform everywhere. Rising global temperatures in some cases are leading to increases in drought, as has been apparent in the western U.S. Overall, the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was approved by all 195 member states of the United Nations, found that precipitation over land “has likely increased since 1950, with a faster rate of increase since the 1980s.”

Even more critically, though, the hundreds of scientists who contributed to the IPCC report found that climate change is leading to jumps in the frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation — a trend likely to continue as temperatures warm.

“It is very likely that heavy precipitation events will intensify and become more frequent in most regions with additional global warming,” the report concluded. “At the global scale, extreme daily precipitation events are projected to intensify by about 7 percent for each 1°C of global warming.”

Those patterns are also being seen in Virginia, scientists say.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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