What Climate Change Means for West Virginia Page: 1 of 2
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West Virginia's climate is changing. Most of the
state has warmed one-half to one degree (F) in the
last century, and heavy rainstorms are becoming
more frequent. In the coming decades, a changing
climate is likely to increase flooding, harm
ecosystems, increase some health problems, and
possibly threaten some recreational activities.
Our climate is changing because the earth is
warming. People have increased the amount of
carbon dioxide in the air by 40 percent since the
late 1700s. Other heat-trapping greenhouse
gases are also increasing. These gases have
warmed the surface and lower atmosphere of our
planet about one degree during the last 50 years.
Evaporation increases as the atmosphere warms,
which increases humidity, average rainfall, and
the frequency of heavy rainstorms in many
places-but contributes to drought in others.
Greenhouse gases are also changing the world's
oceans and ice cover. Carbon dioxide reacts with
water to form carbonic acid, so the oceans are
becoming more acidic. The surface of the ocean
has warmed about one degree during the last
80 years, and sea level is rising at an increasing
rate. Warming is causing snow to melt earlier in
Temperature change (*F):
-1 -0.5 0 0. 1 1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5
Rising temperatures in the last century. All regions of West
Virginia have warmed, though they have warmed less than
most of the United States. Source: EPA, Climate Change
Indicators in the United States.
Increasing Temperature and Changing Precipitation
Rising temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns are likely to increase
the intensity of both floods and droughts. Annual precipitation in most of
West Virginia has increased since the first half of the 20th century, and
precipitation from extremely heavy storms in the eastern United States has
increased by more than 25 percent since 1958. During the next century,
average annual precipitation and the frequency of heavy downpours are
likely to keep rising. Average precipitation is likely to increase during
winter and spring but not change significantly during summer and fall.
Rising temperatures will melt snow earlier in spring and increase
evaporation, and thereby dry the soil during summer and fall. As a result,
changing the climate is likely to intensify flooding during winter and
spring, and droughts during summer and fall.
Flooding, Drought, and Navigation
Flooding occasionally threatens riverfront communities, and heavier storms
and greater river flows could increase this threat. The U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers operates dozens of dams and reservoirs to help prevent
serious floods in West Virginia. Nevertheless, dams and other flood control
structures cannot prevent all floods. In recent decades, the state has had
flood-related disaster declarations nearly every year. These disasters have
often been associated with heavy rainstorms that also caused landslides
4 w ii4.
Floodwaters from the
Little Kanawha River
in Parkersburg. Credit:
Ed Hupp, Wood County
Meanwhile, increasingly severe droughts in West Virginia and nearby states
could pose challenges for transportation on major rivers like the Ohio and
the Kanawha. In 2005, a drought closed portions of the lower Ohio River to
commercial navigation, which delayed shipments of products to and from
West Virginia and adjacent states.
Here’s what’s next.
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United States. Environmental Protection Agency. What Climate Change Means for West Virginia, pamphlet, August 2016; United States. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc949459/m1/1/: accessed January 15, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.