It’s January but when locals in Hampton Roads and the Peninsula step out their door, most days it feels like it’s still autumn outside.
That’s partially because the impacts of climate change are starting to reach the local region.
In the past few decades, scientists, politicians and activists have been discussing the issue of climate change as the temperatures continue to fluctuate beyond their normal range.
Recently, 2019 was recorded with six days that had temperatures 20 degrees warmer than average, David Malmquist news and media director with Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
However, Malmquist said it is important to understand the difference between weather and climate.
“If in any one place we have a warm year, that could fit the pattern of climate warming but it doesn’t prove it,” he said. “You have to look at the globe and those long-term changes.”
Malmquist said there is a lot of variability when you look at one location’s weather fluctuations, but when considered on a global scale the changes start to form a pattern.
For example, temperatures of the past year fit the data from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration that shows November was the 419th consecutive month where the global average temperature was above the 20th century mean, Malmquist said.
With that being taken into consideration, locals in Hampton Roads and the Peninsula are going to start to see the changes in their everyday lives.
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“For us as humans, I don’t think we are going to detect the difference on our skin or anything, but we can see the ramifications,” said Randy Chambers, a professor of biology at William & Mary. “The frequency of storms, the changing sea-level—these are subtle but growing changes over time.”
Both Chambers and Malmquist mentioned that this past summer, scientists were seeing populations of White Shrimp in the Chesapeake Bay which caused concern. This type of shrimp is usually found in more southern states, but because of the rising climate they’ve started to move into Virginia waters.
But Chambers said there are other ways in the coming years that this problem is going to start to impact not just the animals, but also the way humans live.
As a location that thrives as a coastal community, more residents toward the ocean are going to find their lives changed as more frequent flooding occurs because of an increase in storms and sea level rise.
In the future, those coastal areas will have to determine which roads to maintain, where to maintain services such as gas and electricity, and the ways in which the frequency of flooding will impact how and where people are living.
Chambers said while people watch the news and hear about climate change in far-off places, it’s actually impacting the local environment more than one might realize.
“There’s no glaciers in Virginia, so we don’t have to worry about that,” he said. “But we have to worry about the melting of Greenland and Antarctica and how that impacts the water levels.”
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Malmiqusit admitted the issue can seem rather large for individuals to feel as though they have the ability to tackle it. He said to really make a difference, there will have to be large-scale changes made.
He said more public transportation systems, access to energy-efficient appliances, and education for how developments, such as parking lots, impact local ecosystems, will help to make a difference.
Overall, Chambers said the issue is developing much faster than expected and residents in Hampton Roads and the Peninsula won’t be exempt. If changes aren’t made soon, he said, there’s no telling what will happen.
“There are a lot of subtle things that one might anticipate but unfortunately it’s an experiment we are running without any control,” Chambers said. “The world is going through this change in temperature and we are going to find out what will happen.”