Global Warming Hits Home for NWF Climate Scientist

Flooded commuter parking lot in Reston, VA (September 2011 by Flickr's Courtlyn McHale)

As I stood in a torrential downpour waiting for my son’s bus to arrive, I couldn’t help but think how this was yet another sign of climate change hitting home.  Literally.

It was only his third day riding the bus home from school. My parental anxiety was already elevated.  And, now, we had to contend with a serious flash flooding situation. What if the bus was stranded somewhere? Or heaven forbid, swept away in a sudden flood?

This storm easily qualifies as one of the most extreme rainfall events recorded for Northern Virginia. The National Weather Service reports nearly 12” of rain fell this week in Reston, VA, where we live and where I work at the National Wildlife Federation’s headquarters.

On Thursday alone, Dulles International Airport (just a few miles west of Reston) recorded 6.44” of rainfall. There’s only one day when Dulles has recorded a larger rainfall total since measurements began in 1963 and that was when Hurricane Agnes came through the area in 1972. In fact, aside from Hurricane Agnes, Dulles has never seen daily rainfall totals exceed 6”.

Until now.

It’s eerie for me to watch extreme weather events hit my own community. I’ve written reports for NWF about how climate change is loading the dice in favor of more extreme rainfall events – the heavy downpours that have been natural fluctuations in the past are becoming more common in our warming climate. Warmer air can hold more moisture, so when it does rain, we’re more likely to get a deluge.

Thankfully my son made it home safely, but others faced major impacts across the DC area. Three people have lost their lives. Dozens of roads were closed, including the Beltway and I66 in Virginia.  Local governments are still tallying up the total damages.

As a parent, climate change means yet another thing to worry about for my kids. It used to be a more abstract worry: something that would affect them in the far-flung future.  But, yesterday made me realize that it is a much more concrete anxiety. Climate change means worrying about whether my son will make it home from school safely.