Virginia Climate Data Shows No Crisis

Share this article on:

One standard response when the Thomas Jefferson Institute challenges the wisdom of electricity carbon taxes or electric vehicle mandates is, are we not worried about the looming climate crisis? The simple answer is no. Data that undercuts the entire alarmist narrative are easy to find.

The premise for the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act, which the 2025 Virginia General Assembly may revisit, is the expressed concern over catastrophic climate change. It is a constant refrain with many of our political leaders from the current president down to county supervisors. But what if the entire premise is false or badly overblown?

This year, a major and constant media drumbeat has been that 2023 was the hottest year on record and that 2024 will be hotter. In Virginia, 2023 was unremarkable. Even the summer months, the focus of the fear-mongering about rising heat-related fatalities, showed no alarming trend. For the data just go to a website managed by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Here is the chart showing average summer temperatures in Virginia from 1895 to 2023, June through September. The trend line NOAA tracks is about 1 degree Fahrenheit of rise per century, but based on data elsewhere is between 1- and 2-degrees Fahrenheit. The data shows an overall slight warming trend, but multiple summers up to a century ago were as warm or warmer than the most recent.

The same 1–2-degree Fahrenheit per century rise shows up when you track the Virginia average for the full year, and the average highs and lows. With that website, you can pick any start date you want and get any trend line you want, up or down. For us, the longer the data set, the more reliable. That website does report more rapid temperature rises in a few other states, but most are in the 1-2 degrees F per century range, and most recent highs were matched by highs decades ago.

Another standard claim is that the slight warming underway, which may or may not be driven by using hydrocarbon fuels, is also leading to worsening rainfall. NOAA tracks that on the website, too, and there is a rise in the trend line reported at 3 inches per century. Rain is very much a beneficial aspect of the climate, especially for farmers.

Whether or not 3 inches per year more on average than a century ago is too much of a good thing for Virginia is something you need to decide, but to us it is not worrisome. That website shows nationwide rainfall rising from 1895-2023 at a rate of less than 2 inches per century.

NOAA also tracks the coastal tide gauges that report relative sea level rise. The word “relative” is important because the measurement includes changes in sea level and also any changes in the land beside the sea. In Hampton Roads, the shore is subsiding, and that makes the relative sea level rise appear much greater than the water level itself could account for.  In Alaska, there are places where the land rises so much that the sea is receding.

The alarmist media usually ignores the impact of subsiding or rising land levels. It avoids actual tidal readings in reports and focuses on forward-looking models, with the models themselves based on the highest of the temperature rise predictions. Exaggeration feeds exaggeration.

The Virginia tidal gauge with the longest record is at Sewell’s Point in Norfolk, illustrated below. The combination of sea level rise and subsidence there produces a relative change of less than 5 millimeters (about 0.2 in) per year, or about 1.6 feet per century. Most of the scary predictions of future inundation are based on models showing massive acceleration, to multiple feet per year, but year after year the tide gauges fail to show it.

Look at some of the islands where NOAA is tracking the tides, places without subsidence, and the changes measured are quite slow. It is less than one foot per century in Hawaii, Midway, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda. Look at the per-century changes in places along California’s coast. The scary predictions of seas rising rapidly have been around for decades now but are not panning out in the data.

The seas have been rising for thousands of years and even at this actual slow rate, coastal vulnerabilities are growing. The next hurricane hitting Virginia will do significant damage. But weather is not climate change, and the mitigations and preparations needed to protect our coastal cities have nothing to do with the use of hydrocarbon fuels. (If you need to suddenly evacuate, take the gasoline car, and leave the EV in the driveway. Power may be out for a long time.)

There is no evidence of any climate-driven crisis, certainly not in Virginia. There is little evidence of any climate change at all. Drastic steps to rapidly eliminate use of hydrocarbon fuels in power plants, cars or homes are not justified by those fears.

Stephen D. Haner

About Stephen D. Haner

Stephen D. Haner is Senior Fellow for State and Local Tax Policy at the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. He may be reached at [email protected].
This entry was posted in Environment. Bookmark the permalink.