United States	AligilSt 2016
Environmental Protection	z_ . _
Agency	EPA 430-F-16-050
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What Climate Change
Means for
West Virginia's climate is changing. Most of the
state has warmed one-half to one degree (F) in the
last century, and heavy rainstorms are becoming
more frequent. In the coming decades, a changing
climate is likely to increase flooding, harm
ecosystems, increase some health problems, and
possibly threaten some recreational activities.
Our climate is changing because the earth is
warming. People have increased the amount of
carbon dioxide in the air by 40 percent since the
late 1700s. Other heat-trapping greenhouse
gases are also increasing. These gases have
warmed the surface and lower atmosphere of our
planet about one degree during the last 50 years.
Evaporation increases as the atmosphere warms,
which increases humidity, average rainfall, and
the frequency of heavy rainstorms in many
places—but contributes to drought in others.
Greenhouse gases are also changing the world's
oceans and ice cover. Carbon dioxide reacts with
water to form carbonic acid, so the oceans are
becoming more acidic. The surface of the ocean
has warmed about one degree during the last
80 years, and sea level is rising at an increasing
rate. Warming is causing snow to melt earlier in
Temperature change (°F):
-1 -0,5 0 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5 3 B.5
Rising temperatures in the last century. Aii regions of West
Virginia have warmed, though they have warmed leSs than
most of the United States. Source: EPA, Climate Change
Indicators in the United States.
Increasing Temperature and Changing Precipitation
Rising temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns are likely to increase
the intensity of both floods and droughts. Annual precipitation in most of
West Virginia has increased since the first half of the 20th century, and
precipitation from extremely heavy storms in the eastern United States has
increased by more than 25 percent since 1958. During the next century,
average annual precipitation and the frequency of heavy downpours are
likely to keep rising. Average precipitation is likely to increase during
winter and spring but not change significantly during summer and fall.
Rising temperatures will melt snow earlier in spring and increase
evaporation, and thereby dry the soil during summer and fall. As a result,
changing the climate is likely to intensify flooding during winter and
spring, and droughts during summer and fall.
Flooding, Drought, and Navigation
Flooding occasionally threatens riverfront communities, and heavier storms
and greater river flows could increase this threat. The U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers operates dozens of dams and reservoirs to help prevent
serious floods in West Virginia. Nevertheless, dams and other flood control
structures cannot prevent all floods. In recent decades, the state has had
flood-related disaster declarations nearly every year. These disasters have
often been associated with heavy rainstorms that also caused landslides
and mudslides.
Fioodwaters from the
Little Kanawha River
in Parkersburg. Credit
Ed Hupp, Wood County
Emergency Management.
Meanwhile, increasingly severe droughts in West Virginia and nearby states
could pose challenges for transportation on major rivers like the Ohio and
the Kanawha. In 2005, a drought closed portions of the lower Ohio River to
commercial navigation, which delayed shipments of products to and from
West Virginia and adjacent states.

A changing climate threatens ecosystems by disrupting the
existing relationships between species. Wildflowers and woody
perennials are blooming—and migratory birds are arriving—
sooner in spring. Not all species adjust in the same way,
however, so the food that one species needs may no longer be
available when that species arrives on its migration. This can
lead to animals not getting enough food. Warmer temperatures
allow deer populations to increase, leading to a loss of forest
underbrush, which, in turn, makes some animals more
vulnerable to predators. Rising temperatures also enable invasive
species to move into areas that were previously too cold.
Rising temperatures and changing precipitation could also harm
aquatic ecosystems. Warmer water lowers the level of dissolved
oxygen in surface water, which can severely limit fish popula-
tions. Because fish cannot regulate their body temperatures,
warmer water can make a stream uninhabitable for fish that
require cooler water. Warmer water can also increase the
frequency of algal blooms, which can be toxic and further
reduce dissolved oxygen. Summer droughts may amplify these
effects, while periods of extreme rainfall can cause runoff that
increases pollution in streams.
Recreation and related tourism in West Virginia are closely tied to
the weather. Many people enjoy Whitewater rafting on West
Virginia's rivers every year, including more than 60,000 on the
Gauley River alone. The use of these rivers depends on the flow
of water being sufficient for the thrilling rides that people seek.
Native populations of brook trout, the official state fish, depend
on West Virginia's mountain streams remaining cold. But suitable
habitats for brook trout and other coldwater fish are likely to
shrink as some streams become too warm to support them.

A native brook trout camouflaged against the rocky bottom of a cold West
Virginia stream. Credit: Steve Brown, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
Higher temperatures are likely to shorten the season when the
ground is covered by snow, and thereby shorten the season for
skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling. Shorter seasons could
harm locai economies that depend on winter recreation.
Increasingly heavy rains could increase pollution runoff and
harm water qualify for fishing and swimming.
Forests and Farms
Rising temperatures and changes in rainfall are unlikely to
substantially reduce forest cover in West Virginia, although the
composition of those forests may change. More droughts would
reduce forest productivity, and climate change is also likely to
increase the damage from insects and disease. But longer
growing seasons and increased carbon dioxide concentrations
could more than offset the losses from those factors. Forests
cover more than three -quarters of the state. Maple, beech, and
birch are the most common tree species in the central part of the
state, while oak and hickory dominate the forests elsewhere. As
the climate changes, oak and hickory trees are likely to become
more common in the central part of the state as well.
Climate change may also pose challenges for farmers. Longer
frost-free growing seasons and increased concentrations of
atmospheric carbon dioxide tend to increase yields for many
crops during an average year. But more severe droughts and
more hot days are likely to reduce yields. Higher temperatures are
also likely to reduce livestock productivity: hot weather causes
cows to eat less, grow more slowly, and produce less milk—and
it can threaten their health.
Human Health
Hot days can be unhealthy—even dangerous. High air tem-
peratures can cause heat stroke and dehydration, and affect
people's cardiovascular and nervous systems. Certain people are
especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, and
the poor.
Changing the climate can harm air quality. The longer growing
season may increase the length and severity of the pollen season
for ragweed and other allergens. Higher temperatures increase
the formation of ground- level ozone, a key component of smog
that causes chronic and acute respiratory conditions. EPA and the
West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection have been
working to reduce ozone concentrations. As the climate changes,
continued progress toward clean air will be more difficult.
The sources of information about climate and the impacts of climate change In this publication are: the national climate assessments by the U.S. Global Change Research
Program, synthesis and assessment products by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, assessment reports by the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and
EPA's Climate Change Indicators in the United States. Mention of a particular season, location, species, or any other aspect of an impact does not imply anything about
the likelihood or importance of aspects that are not mentioned. For more information about climate change science, impacts, responses, and what you can do, visit EPA's
Climate Change website at www.epa.Qov/ciimatechanc.ie.