Progress / Science

Embracing a Changing Climate: Climate Blog #1

Let us assume that you, dear reader, care deeply about maintaining a healthy natural environment for yourself, your family and your community. Let us also assume that you are a Vermonter. But I repeat myself.

The world is changing quickly, including our own Vermont. Over the past 50 years, the state has experienced warmer temperatures and changes in our weather patterns. In that period, average air temperatures have increased by approximately 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit, at a rate of 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit per decade. While that change sounds modest, this trend has major effects on our precipitation patterns as well snowpack.

For example, with warmer temperatures, more precipitation is falling as rain during the winter months, reducing snowpack. Moreover, there will be more frequent high intensity precipitation events throughout New England. Precipitation in Vermont alone has increased by 15-20 percent over the past 50 years, and this trend of more severe weather is projected to continue. According to the ANR 2011 report, Resilience: A Report on the Health of Vermont’s Environment, storms “release 67 percent more rain than they did 50 years ago.”

taftsville flooding

Damage caused by flooding on the Ottauquechee River to the Taftsville Bridge. Photo courtesy of Stephen Flanders.

Climate change impacts on precipitation appear to magnify the effects of our land uses on water quality, placing a greater burden on already stressed ecological systems. The greater frequency of severe precipitation events, brought on by climate change, will generate more stormwater runoff and erosion. Vermont is already aware, following the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, about the potential devastating impacts caused by severe flooding. As climate change continues to affect us, there is much uncertainty regarding the magnitude and extent of its impacts on our communities.  However, this uncertainty should not be an excuse for inaction, but an opportunity to reevaluate how we plan for the future.

waterbury irene

Flooding in Waterbury following Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Photo courtesy of Glenn Russell, Burlington Free Press.

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources is incorporating a “no regrets” strategy for addressing climate change using known actions designed to secure multiple objectives and benefits. This “No regrets” or “best bet” strategy will incorporate pragmatic programs and activities that are designed to enhance flood resilience, minimize the impacts of stormwater runoff, and improve water quality.

Discussing the weather, our most mundane of daily rituals, is set to become much more interesting in the years to come. However, with courage and intrepid forethought, we can manage the approaching challenges that come with a changing climate.

This blog series will be dedicated to the various actions we can take in order to prepare ourselves and Vermont for the changes in our climate. Please join us in learning how we as Vermonters can best weather the oncoming challenges facing our region.