Flooded street in Norfolk during Hurricane Sandy.
Flooded street in Norfolk during Hurricane Sandy.

by Rachel Cannon

On November 1st, 2013, President Obama signed an Executive Order “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change” – the newest addition to the Administration’s Climate Action Plan. One part of the Executive Order establishes the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience: a collection of state, local and tribal leaders from across the country who will serve as advisors to the government on building climate preparedness and resilience in their communities.

This is a great idea – so what is the problem? Scanning the list of Task Force members reveals a glaring omission: Among all of these names, there is not a single representative from Virginia. Why not? Other east coast states, including Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey, are represented. One state (California) has not one, not two, but three representatives on the Task Force.

Virginia, particularly coastal Virginia, needs to be a part of this.

The Task Force was created to advise, based on first-hand experiences, on how the federal government can respond to the needs of communities that are dealing with the impacts of climate change.In part, it will help agencies assist cities and towns to build “smarter and stronger,” identifying and removing barriers to investing in resilience. In other words, the Task Force will tell the government how it can help these communities prepare for and survive climate-change-fueled disasters.

Virginia, especially the Tidewater region, faces tremendous and unique threats from climate change. Moreover, communities such as Norfolk have been battling damaging weather events, not to mention storm surges and relentless flooding, for years. Virginia research institutions, such as the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), have developed superb research on best practices and implementation. Insights from our region’s community leaders are invaluable and irreplaceable to the White House’s efforts. With no Virginians on the Task Force, who can speak on Virginia’s behalf? Maryland? Delaware? How could they? The region faces unique concerns, and must offer its correspondingly unique perspective.

Although storms and sea level rise are only some of many concerns the Administration hopes to address, they are significant, and Virginia can help. First, the predicted effects of climate change on the state are tremendous. Virginia’s Tidewater region has one of the fastest rates of sea level rise in the country. NOAA predicts there will be almost two feet of local sea level rise over the next 100 years at Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel – the highest increase on the east coast. VIMS estimates that over the next 20-50 years, the Hampton Roads area could experience up to a 1.5-foot increase in sea level rise. Over 80% of the Virginia coastline is considered at “high” or “very high” risk from sea level rise. According to one estimate, 19,000 people in Norfolk and 40,000 people in Virginia Beach live below the 100-year flood level, ranking Norfolk among the five most vulnerable U.S. cities to harm from hurricanes.

Recent weather events like hurricanes have been unprecedented both in frequency and severity (consider the 4-foot storm surge in Hurricane Irene in 2011). What’s worse, the region’s land is sinking as sea level rises. The cruel trifecta of sea level rise, subsidence, and these extreme weather events, threaten to leave a much of cities like Norfolk under water. When (not if) a hurricane like Sandy touches down in Virginia, it will jeopardize homes, lives, critical infrastructure, not to mention the enormous federal investment in Naval operations. The economic and human harm in the region threatens to be astronomical.

Most importantly, Virginia is working to prepare for these forecasted harms. Leaders in Hampton Roads have expressed their desire to work with state and federal government on climate change in the region. A recent conference on adaptive planning for sea level rise in the region reached maximum capacity, with legislators, local leaders, and researchers coming together to discuss the challenges facing coastal Virginia, and how they can move forward to protect our cities and citizens.

To many, it only seems like a matter of time until Virginia’s perspective shifts from preparation to restoration, unless the region gets attention and assistance from federal resources. Entire communities are at risk, and are waiting to be heard. If the White House wants to learn from communities that are taking steps to protect themselves from extreme weather and other impacts from climate change, Virginia needs to be part of that conversation.

Rachel Cannon is a student at the College of William & Mary Law School, class of 2014.

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17 responses to “Virginia Missing from White House Climate Conversation”

  1. Last I heard, Conservative members of the General Assembly considered such efforts to be “liberal lies” and propaganda and Cucinelli was doing his best to warn Va Universities and State Agencies to also not engage in such blasphemy.

    Va legislators had to remove all references associated with Climate Change to approve a study.

    There are ample reasons why Va is not represented but I’m glad that Jim B allowed Rachel the opportunity to write about it even though he risks the ire of Conservatives to then label his blog as a “liberal rag”!

  2. There’s an interesting back story to this going on in Congress as they are re-writing the Federal Subsidized Flood Insurance program in an attempt to move it towards less subsidies and second homes and structures in flood prone areas – including Coastal areas are going to have to pay much higher premiums for insurance and we saw some of the changes when people in New Jersey could not re-build unless they raised their homes on stilts or abandoned the lower levels to be used as living areas.

    In the light of the Feds changing the FEMA Flood Insurance program , it makes perfect sense to – at the least – inform the Coastal areas in Va of these major changes… to help them plan for a world where insurance may simply not be obtainable any more even at the Federal level.

    I wonder how many climate “deniers” there are in Va’s Coastal areas?

  3. billsblots Avatar

    “Recent weather events like hurricanes have been unprecedented both in frequency and severity (consider the 4-foot storm surge in Hurricane Irene in 2011).”

    This is just patently untrue. Since the Katrina debacle of insanely bad leadership by city and state officials, we have experienced seasons of some of the mildest and fewest hurricane in history. Every summer the hysterical media, who never saw a crisis they didn’t love, and lacking any will create them, including Weather Channel, NPR and most everyone else, predict that we are headed for yet “another season of above average hurricane activity”. Every year since Katrina has been below the historical average of activity, but that never slows down manipulative politicians and those whose very job relies on huge government grants from stirring up unfounded and unjustifiable panic and mayhem for their own political and selfish purposes.

    It is despicable and reprehensible, the country yearns and desperately needs real journalism to expose the lying 8astards and keep them in check.

    1. billsblots Avatar

      And eventually we will have an above average hurricane season, that’s how you arrive at an average, and the howling and screaming and gnashing of teeth will be unbearable as the cries of “See!! See!! We told you so!” fill the airwaves non-stop.

      Yes, they’ve been telling us every year for eight years and been wrong every one of them. Keep yelling and eventually they’ll be right, just like a broken clock and a blind squirrel.

    2. Bill, have you visited the Outer Banks lately or read the news?

      A North Carolina Lifeline Built on Shifting Sands

      “RODANTHE, N.C. — Last August, when Hurricane Irene sliced across the Outer Banks, it cut Highway 12, Hatteras Island’s lifeline, in two places. Engineers rushed to repair the damage, filling and repaving a washed-out stretch of roadway here and building a bridge over a newly formed inlet a few miles to the north.
      Science Times Podcast
      This week: The battle of the Outer Banks; a cry in the dark; and falling asleep too easily.
      The Science Times Podcast


      Islands of the Outer Banks

      A Surf-Worthy New Tool to Study Erosion (March 6, 2012)
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      Enlarge This Image

      Cornelia Dean
      WEAK POINT An inlet cut by Hurricane Irene, later reinforced with rock.
      Enlarge This Image

      Cornelia Dean
      ​RODANTHE​ The hurricane left some houses cut off from the main road.
      The road reopened on Oct. 11, to the cheers of anglers, would-be vacationers and the innkeepers, restaurateurs and merchants whose livelihoods had taken a huge blow.

      But the winds and waves that shape the coast were already gnawing at the new bridge. By January, engineers were reinforcing its southern approach with sandbags and rock trucked in from the mainland, in hopes of keeping the road open until a more permanent fix could be designed and built.”


      and then:

      ” Erosion closes Outer Banks bridge, NCDOT plans repairs and emergency ferry”

      NCDOT has been considering abandoning the cut-off sections because the remaining land is thought to be cut again and again in future storms – not even hurricanes.. just storms.

  4. Three points:

    First, Bill is right that hurricane frequency is way down and has been for several years. That’s just a fact and anybody can check it. One destructive hurricane (Sandy) means nothing. The trend has been down. Predictions made a decade ago that hurricane activity would get worse have been decisively proven wrong. Ms. Cannon needs to revisit her assumptions on that issue.

    Second, the fact remains that Hampton Roads is very vulnerable to storm surges. Subsidence is real. Rising sea levels are real. (They’ve been rising for more than a century.) We can debate *how fast* they’re rising. We can dispute the alarmist claims that they’ll rise three feet by the end of this century. But sea levels *are* rising. Hampton Roads will become only more vulnerable with time.

    Third, there is no justification for the federal government subsidizing the insurance of people building in areas vulnerable to storm surges. I bitterly oppose 90% of what Obama is doing. But I’m not going to oppose the 10% I do like just because it comes from Obama. This is a rare issue where environmentalists, fiscal conservatives and free-marketeers can come together and get something concrete accomplished. There aren’t many opportunities like this. Let’s take advantage of them when they come along.

    1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

      It’s simply not true that hurricane frequencies are way down.

      I didn’t know that sea level rise has been going on for more than a century, which is good information to have. Looking at the charts, it seems to track nicely with a slightly delayed effect to the Industrial Revolution.

      1. Now days – we “discuss” things :

        1. -usually in terms of sound bites (ordinary people can become armchair scientists, i.e. know as much as PHDs who have been working in the field for 30 years, by reading a few minutes of non-scientists commenatary on the internet).

        2. – as if the govt is lying to people about climate and other things and cannot be trusted.

        3. anything with a .gov on the website is considered less reliable than a overtly partisan, anti-govt website.

        so we get into these back and forth conversations about the number a frequencies of hurricanes even as the data – which has been compiled over a hundred years shows this, but were told that the observations were done wrong .. and cannot be relied on… and that modern scientists cannot be trusted because they cook the data.. not just a few in the US mind you – but all of them – on the planet… are in an unholy alliance .. a global conspiracy to convince people of a lie because they’ll get more money from the government .. to continue their “work”.

        I’m serious here.. just read the sites…

  5. It’s not the hurricanes. It’s the increased storms surges that are coming ashore, cutting barrier islands and flooding subway and highway tunnels that have never been flooded before.

    Is Sandy an isolated event? How about the Outer Banks which has not only been cut in two places but recent engineering surveys have indicated the likelihood of other cut-throughs even if bridges are built?

    What kind of storm event (forget labels like Hurricane)… what would it take to flood the CBBT or Hampton Roads tunnels?

    Isn’t that a question worth knowing the answer to – no matter your politics about GW?

    Sandy has caused flood maps to be re-drawn. FEMA is redrawing flood maps for rivers and coastal areas and showing massively large new areas at risk – that have never, in the history of record keeping, been at risk before.

    we cannot approve the money for an inventory if there is one word in it that violates the possible reasons behind sea level rise?

    are you freaking kidding me?

  6. DJRippert Avatar


    Any idea of how the representatives to the commission were selected? Any idea why nobody from Virginia volunteered / was selected?

    We debate the spending of billions of dollars per year in Virginia for emergency preparedness measures (the so-called second crossing, for example). It seems to me that somebody from our political class ought to be in the conversation.

  7. Interestingly, most of the areas heavily flooded by Sandy in NYC were in areas that had been reclaimed from the ocean through fill material. Isn’t there some risk as well as reward for living at the water. My wife once got quite angry with me when I refused to look at a house built on a lot with a stream at the edge. And my grandfather built his cabin quite a ways above the high water mark of the lake.

    1. re: ” Interestingly, most of the areas heavily flooded by Sandy in NYC were in areas that had been reclaimed from the ocean through fill material. ”

      TMT have you got some evidence to back up that statement? My reading says that some of these areas had never been flooded before – ever and they are not reclaimed land at all but land that is inland.. from the shore.

      “Isn’t there some risk as well as reward for living at the water. My wife once got quite angry with me when I refused to look at a house built on a lot with a stream at the edge. And my grandfather built his cabin quite a ways above the high water mark of the lake”

      who owns the risks and what happens when you buy a lot or house that has never been flooded before – ever – and then it gets flooded – and the govt nor private insurance will offer insurance on it any more or they want 1/3 the value of the house every year as premiums?

      What’s happening is that FEMA is paying but you can’t rebuild unless you raise the house – which can cost 150K or more.. and if you don’t do that then insurance premiums can be 30-50K per year.

      that effectively means the house and lot are worthless for any kind of structure to be lived in.

      the new maps and law – is going to make most of the Outer Backs – not insurable….

      Jim thinks the time for this has been a long time in coming. I agree.

      but real people are going to suffer real financial losses although more than a few will be losing their second house..not their primary residence.

      1. I first heard it from an environmental engineer friend of mine. Here is a link to a press account. Search and you can find more. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2342297/Manhattans-original-coastline-revealed-Hurricane-Sandy-flooded-land-reclaimed-400-years.html

        Building in any flood plain is risky, most especially when that is a first home or business location. I learned that 40 years ago working for the Minnesota DNR.

        1. well I learned something and I thank you for helping me to!

          thanks again!

        2. It disabused me of my understanding that Manhattan Island was all a big chunk of granite. Only in parts. I also understand that some “granite-bottomed, low sea level” locations also flooded.

          1. all of it built on .. on the premise ..that sea levels would not…rise….

            bad premise regardless of one’s views on GW.

  8. so since we blathered on a bit about economics in the minimum wage thread.. let me ask what this means from an economic theory/perspective when land becomes LESS valuable than it used to be…

    how does that work in the supply/demand world?

    was it land that never was valuable or was it land that was valuable in a time before the govt got involved in the flood insurance business but then once the govt got out – it then lost it’s value – even though originally it was valuable even without Federal subsidized insurance?

    what will places like the Outer Banks look like in the future:

    1. – if sea levels continue to rise and storms become as feared as hurricanes if they have big storm surges that can overrun the island?

    2. – only the rich (or those who can afford to take a 100% loss on a house), can afford to live there?

    how about the other barrier islands and seashore tourist places like Myrtle Beach and Emerald Isle?

    how about the Eastern Shore without the CBBT or a CBBT that has to triple it’s tolls to pay for storm surge upgrades?

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