How Global Warming Is Changing Richmond’s Summers

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – You wouldn’t imagine, Richmond’s summer heat and humidity are getting worse, and global warming is playing a part.

Dr. Jeremy Hoffman of the Science Museum of Virginia uses colorful language to describe it, saying, “The midsummer [in Richmond] it feels like you’re walking outside into someone else’s mouth.

Since 1970, we have seen average daytime highs increase by about 3 degrees Fahrenheit. Twenty years ago, our hottest week of the year had average highs in the upper 80s; now it’s 90°. This National Weather Service data is updated every 10 years. Chart data shows 1990-2020 averages.

The average hottest days of the year have a high of 90°(National Weather Service)

An even greater impact has occurred at night when low temperatures have climbed 4° since 1970. Part of this overnight rise is due to urban heat island effectthat is, when buildings, pavement, and air conditioning literally warm us up overnight.

Another part of this overnight warming is due to increased humidity. Warmer air holds more moisture, and as you add more moisture to the air, it doesn’t cool as much overnight.

As temperatures warm, the air conditioning season lasts longer, which increases our electricity bill.

Air conditioning is a great innovation, leading to high interior comfort during heat waves. Yet some people don’t have air conditioning or can’t afford to run it as often, which can cause heat-related illnesses.

Dr. Hoffman conducted a study in 2017 that showed poorer neighborhoods with minority populations were getting hotter than richer neighborhoods in Richmond. This is because there are fewer trees and more pavement. Narrower streets and mature trees can help make our hottest days more bearable.

Read more about his research here: “Throwing Shade”.

One of the predicted and verified results of climate change is increased torrential rains. If you think of the atmosphere as a sponge, that makes sense. The warmer the air, the more water it can absorb and hold. But when a storm arrives and “wrings out” the sponge, it rains more. Global warming is making our days heavy with heavy rain.

This is leading to more frequent flash floods and urban flooding, and this trend is expected to continue as the world continues to warm.

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Teresa H. Sadler