Climate Change Brings Unpredictable Weather to Northern Virginia

Cosette Jo, Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Pixaby.

The Colorado wildfire that erupted on December 30 laid waste to hundreds of homes and resulted in at least one death. Extreme winds led to the sudden, vicious blaze, forcing 35,000 people to evacuate their homes.

Despite the fact that the number of large wildfires each year, exceeding 1,000 acres of coverage, has increased more than doubly in western America since 1970, this kind of devastation may seem distant to those of us in Northern VA. Aside from being on the other side of the country, Colorado also has a considerably different environment than our state. Climate change, however, is rapidly leveling that gradient, indiscriminately increasing temperatures around the world and disrupting typical weather patterns.

Virginia has been experiencing all sorts of unfavorable changes, from the drastic lengthening of the dreaded mosquito season (an approximate 20 day difference since the 1980s), to rapidly rising sea levels and higher temperatures. According to Climate Central, summers in Annandale and Burke will increase in average high temperature by 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century — the temperature of the current highs in Harlingen, Texas. In just seventy years, it is predicted that the number of days the temperature hits above 95°F will double and perhaps even quadruple in southeast Virginia.

Keeping these developments in mind, it should be noted that the series of climate events leading up to the fires in Colorado can actually be traced back to a generous snowfall, not unlike the one that we experienced in January.

Last March, Colorado’s eastern half received a foot or two of snow thanks to a large winter storm. This led to plentiful plant growth in the spring, but when drought hit in the summer, the thriving flora dried up. The dead vegetation was the perfect kindling for the fires that would follow.

Photo by Cosette Jo.

Dramatic shifts in climate over the course of a few months aren’t foreign patterns to Virginians, as weather here gets increasingly unpredictable. Besides the aforementioned temperature increases, heavy rainstorms have been drastically increasing in number and intensity for the past 20 years, and concerning snow, the question has switched from “when” to “if”. It’s not so hard to imagine that our state climate might easily switch from a wet winter to dry, wild-fire accommodating conditions come summer.

Though troubling, none of this is shocking news; climate change is an ongoing issue. The disastrous Colorado wildfires instead serve as yet another example of the deadly consequences that human actions can have on the environment, and a reminder that those repercussions don’t hit far from home.