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New Climate Change Center at George Mason University

A blue building sits lone on a pier above the Chesapeake Bay.
Angie Miles
VPM News Focal Point
The Virginia Climate Center is a federally-funded resource for state localities

George Mason University is providing a new resource to help local communities deal with current and potential problems prompted by climate change.


ANGIE MILES: Penny Matthews says she and her husband have labored with love to restore and maintain their Accomack County home of nearly 50 years. But now there are problems like more backyard flooding and...

PENNY MATTHEWS (Accomack resident): The hard surface road 48 years ago was fine. Now in the last number of years continually it has flooded to the point I can't even drive down and I can't have company. I get to church some days and can't get back home.

ANGIE MILES: She wants the county to address it.

PENNY MATTHEWS: I stay in, upset over it, all the time. When I hear a storm's coming, or we're going to have high tides. And people can't come to visit me. I feel locked in, back here.

JESSICA STEELMAN (Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission): Miss Matthew's situation is very common on the shore. As a matter of fact, there's about 33 miles of roads just like that. So, hers is just a small snippet of a very much larger regional problem.

ANGIE MILES: Jessica Steelman is the coastal planner for the quasi-governmental Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission. She has her eye on what residents need to safeguard against the effects of climate change.

JESSICA STEELMAN: My goal is to develop the community resilience and sustainability plan to be project focused and identify critical needs for the shore.

ANGIE MILES: Eastern Shore residents have long worked with nonprofits like the Nature Conservancy, and with various university partners, Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, William and Mary, to create workable solutions for sea level rise, flooding, erosion, and habitat protection. Now they have another academic resource available in George Mason's new Virginia Climate Center, a set of faculty from across disciplines working together to offer protections for the whole state.

JIM KINTER (Researcher, Virginia Climate Center at GMU): People have become accustomed to the climate that we've had for the many decades that we've been alive. And the problem is that that's not the climate we're going to have. In fact, it's not the climate we have today. We're trying to help people prepare for what we're calling the inevitable changes associated with global warming. And that means building resilience to more severe weather. It means understanding what the threats are, where the most vulnerable communities are, and helping them understand their threats, as well as come up with solutions.

ANGIE MILES: Kinter says all of Virginia is vulnerable because of climate change, but that the threats vary by region.

JIM KINTER: So, for example, if you look at Eastern Shore, if you look at Norfolk and Virginia Beach, the Tidewater area of the Potomac, James and York Rivers, those are all being threatened by sea level rise. Sea level rise is a consequence of global warming.

ANGIE MILES: This center exists to assist professionals like Steelman, as they create and implement climate resilience plans. The Northern Virginia Regional Commission is already partnering with GMU's new center as northern localities deal with issues like flash flooding.

JIM KINTER: The rainfall in this area has already become considerably more intense than it was even 30 or 40 years ago, and we project that it's going to continue to get more intense for the next 30 or 40 years. So that the flash floods that we might have considered to be a hundred-year event back in the 1960s, will now be a 20-year event or even maybe a 10-year event.

ANGIE MILES: Urban areas of the state also contend with trapped heat that intensifies as the world gets hotter.

JIM KINTER: As the whole planet warms up as a result of carbon dioxide concentration, the cities are warming up even faster. We have elderly populations and disadvantaged communities where heat is a big issue, not to mention the fact that people who have to work outdoors are susceptible to heat. In the more rural parts, the western part of the state, there the issue is drought, where we, even though it's going to be raining more intensely when it rains, we will have more prolonged periods without rainfall and that will lead to drought. And in our agricultural areas, that's a very serious threat.

ANGIE MILES: For local governments in coastal, urban, and rural areas of the commonwealth, The Virginia Climate Center intends over time to become a useful partner for as many communities as possible.

Angie Miles, Host/Producer, anchors and hosts VPM News Focal Point and special broadcasts.
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