REPORT: Heavy Rain and Flooding could become more common
Our region is no stranger to unique and changing weather- but the changes we could see in the years ahead due to increases in temperature globally, could force us to adapt. In late 2018, the fourth National Climate Assessment was released, detailing the impacts we could see due to changes in climate.
I went through the report and outline some of the biggest impacts below:
With warmer temperatures, the amount of moisture in the atmosphere increases. This increases the risk of heavy or extreme rainfall events. ETSU Assistant Professor Andrew Joyner studies hazard mitigation and how weather can impact communities. He tells me that in 2016 and 2017- we had several 1000 year flood events impact the gulf coast. These included Hurricane Harvey and two major flooding events in LA. He says that events which we thought were more rare, appear to be becoming more common.
In our area, the risk during heavy rainfall events is increased due to our topography. Johnson City has spend thousands upon thousands of dollars over the year to try and mitigate flooding. In the mountains, Carter County is no stranger to flooding. Just look back to the flooding of Roan Mountain flooding of 1998 or even more recent events.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, commonly known as as FEMA, creates flood maps through the National Flood Insurance Program. This provides us data to examine our risk. In the Tri-Cities, portions of Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City are flood zones.
A heavy rainfall event could shut down roads and flood communities, creating physical and economic concerns. "We've done a really poor job of allowing people and infrastructure to be built in vulnerable areas. We shouldn't be building in 100 year flood zones," Andrew tells me.
ANIMAL AND PLANT IMPACT:
It's not just people who could be impacted by changes in our climate. Soon you may see changes in the plants and animals that live around here, too.
On Whitetop, the Welleri's salamander is already feeling the impact. Kevin Hammed, a professor of biology at VA Highlands Community College says due to warming, the animals may have to change where they live. He says that " in some cases they are already at the upper 200 feet of the mountain. So their response to warming might be that they're gonna have to retreat upward to maintain that climate they want and if you only have 200 feet it doesn't give you too much more (room for them to go up)."
While most people think climate change is only warmer temperatures, it's important to remember that you can still get cold spells. Research has shown that arctic blasts - colder than normal temperatures during the winter and spring months could become more common with changes in global climate.
"We're seeing things like papa trees- which are flowering earlier but the problem we get is we still could get a potential late spring frost that comes through and it hampers the flowers, " Kevin says.
While the assessment doesn't put a timetable on when the impacts would be felt, it's a good idea to plan ahead and understand your risk. Check to see if your house is in a flood zone and if it is, consult your insurance company on if you should purchase flood insurance.
The changes in our region may not be as significant as those along the coast, due to rising sea levels. But there is expected impact, here at home- from flooding, to changes in animal and plant life, to even population. Perhaps one of the most striking things Andrew told me was "one of the biggest impacts to our area would be increases in population- from coastal areas and areas that may be more impacted by changes in the climate."