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Expert warns flooding may plague Virginians regardless of where they are

Climate expert Gary Griggs says flooding will be a problem in coastal communities, mountains and at many airports.
Climate expert Gary Griggs says flooding will be a problem in coastal communities, mountains and at many airports.

It’s no surprise that communities on Virginia’s coast are at risk for increased flooding as sea levels rise. Already, cities like Norfolk are coping with what’s called sunny day flooding.

“Ten percent of the city is wet at a really high tide,” says Gary Griggs, a professor of earth science at the University of California Santa Cruz. In coastal Virginia, he adds, the water is coming up as the land is going down.

“The land is sinking for some obvious reasons of ground water withdrawal and compacted sediments, so sea level is rising relative to land faster than globally.”

He notes some cities in our region – places we don’t consider coastal – will also see more flooding.

“Even though we may not think of Washington as on the coast, in fact the oceans can move a long way inland.”

Especially when hurricanes strike. And if you live in mountainous parts of the state Griggs says you too will feel the impact of those storms.

“Those areas are probably going to be much more influenced by these downpours resulting from all that moisture in the atmosphere. Those are going to be much more damaging in probably the next 20-30 years.”

If you travel for business or pleasure, Griggs says flying into certain cities will be more complicated in the years to come. Many coastal airports are at increased risk of flooding.

“Airports, because of big cities, didn’t have enough room and were built out over the water – a few feet above sea level – because we didn’t really know about sea level rise when they were built.”

Airports most likely to flood include Washington’s Reagan National, San Francisco, New Orleans and New York’s Laguardia. They’re all within a few feet of sea level.

“Other cities that you don’t necessarily think of as coastal, like Philadelphia, they experience sea level rise at their airport as does Boston," Griggs says.

Fortunately, Virginia airports are not likely to have that problem. Even Norfolk International is more than 26 feet above sea level, but Griggs warns that hurricanes are likely to produce much heavier rains and flooding when they hit airports in the Commonwealth.

People concerned about climate change can install solar panels or buy electric cars, but Griggs says all of us can do one thing that costs nothing – vote for candidates who take this problem seriously and are committed to helping communities to adapt.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief