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Ken Plum: The weather is changing

Politicians speaking at outdoor events on a pretty day invariably and jokingly take credit for the weather. But no one has stepped up to take credit for the weather lately.  Records are being broken; new highs are being set.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported recently that the United States has experienced the warmest 12-month period since record keeping began in 1895.  According to NOAA, heat during the last half of June broke or tied 170 all-time high temperature records in the U.S.  And July has been hotter.  Temperatures in South Carolina of 113 degrees and in Georgia of 112 degrees are being looked at by the U.S. State Climate Extremes Committee as being possible all-time records.  Local records were broken as well with over a dozen days over 95 degrees.

Breaks in the weather brought high winds and fierce thunder storms.  The derecho storm that passed through our region in minutes left nearly a half-million customers in Northern Virginia without electric power and our communications system, including 911, in disarray for days.  I had never heard of a derecho storm!

Wild fires in the West were widely reported, but there were significant fires in the mountains of Virginia as well.  The summer drought is hitting farmers hard in the U.S., but in London there is plenty of rain.  The Department of Agriculture has redefined the growing zones for plants as there have been changes in the weather.  Or can we say climate?

There has been a huge amount of hot air generated over the issue of climate change.  Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was unsuccessful in obtaining the papers of a climatologist who was formerly doing his research at the University of Virginia.  There has been a sensitivity to even using the term “climate change” in the Commonwealth.  Although Virginia’s Hampton Roads region has the 10th most valued assets exposed to flooding from sea-level rising, the General Assembly passed a resolution to study “recurrent flooding” in the region with no mention of climate change.  The relative sea level rise at one point in Norfolk has been over 14 inches since 1930.

Sea level rise is a symptom of a greater problem that must be addressed.  Record-breaking temperatures are likewise a symptom.  We can build dikes to keep back the seas; many nations have done that.  We can drink plenty of water and stay inside out of the heat.  We can get upset with the utility companies when the trees we have been trying to save break down the power lines and leave us without electricity.  The weather is changing, no doubt about it.  It is time for the political discourse to become more serious and include a realistic discussion of climate change.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.