As Fairfax County finalizes its first-ever plan to address the future effects of climate change, community members can see how the phenomenon already affects them with a newly released interactive map.
Launched last week, the climate map depicts heat and flooding data that can be viewed in conjunction with maps of the county’s population and infrastructure, including roads, utilities, and public facilities.
“The Fairfax County interactive climate map is a dynamic tool showcasing some of the best available data we have to date on climate impacts in our community,” Matt Meyers, the climate planning division director for the Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination, said. “The map is meant to inform and empower county residents, business owners, and community leaders to actively prepare for and participate in resilience efforts on a local level.”
The map offers a clear illustration of the heat island effect, showing that average daytime temperatures are higher in more populated and developed areas along major highways, like Tysons, Reston, the Fair Lakes and Fair Oaks area, and the Route 1 corridor.
Flooding appears to be most intense in the southeast part of the county, with waters from the Potomac River and Occoquan Bay overflowing onto Belle Haven, Lorton, Mason Neck, and Fort Belvoir. If sea levels rise a foot, Mason Neck will noticeably shrink. If they rise three feet, the Route 1 ramps to I-495 at the Alexandria border will be submerged.
The OEEC developed the map using information gathered through its Resilient Fairfax initiative, which started last year to establish a Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan intended to reduce and prepare the county for the damages that will come with a rapidly warming Earth.
So far, the initiative has produced:
- A Climate Projections Report, which found that rising greenhouse gas emissions could fuel a significant increase in days with temperatures over 95 degrees
- An audit analyzing how well the county’s existing policies and facilities take climate change into account
- A draft Climate Vulnerability and Risk Assessment, which looked at which residents, services, and facilities are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change
- A draft Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan that recommended creating a fund for climate-related county projects, among other proposals
The Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan will be finalized and presented to the Board of Supervisors for acceptance this fall, according to OEEC spokesperson Ali Althen.
The climate map uses the same data that went into the projections report and risk assessment, but it’s narrower in scope, focusing on current flood and heat information with some indicators of future conditions, such as “projected sea level rise and coastal storm surge,” the OEEC says.
With marginalized communities facing the most severe consequences from climate change, the map also incorporates data from the county’s Vulnerability Index, which scored different areas based on residents’ income, education, homeownership, and other socioeconomic factors.
The OEEC says it’s important for residents to understand what climate hazards are in store for the county so they can get involved in efforts to address those impacts. In Belle Haven, for instance, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already proposed building a wall to mitigate flooding.
“Awareness is the first step toward climate readiness, and we hope this tool will allow users to grow in their understanding of the risks facing Fairfax County now and in the years to come,” Meyers said.
As climate change intensifies, Fairfax County residents could see searing temperatures increase, turning most summer days into scorchers by the end of the century.
“The new climate projections report is a stark reminder that we are likely to experience serious and significant changes as a result of greenhouse gases warming our world,” Kambiz Agazi, director of the county Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination, said in a statement.
Currently, Fairfax County averages about a week’s worth of days at or above 95 degrees. The future depends on how effectively the world curbs greenhouse gas emissions.
Under a lower-risk scenario, where emissions peak around 2040 and then stabilize by 2100, the county could see 28 days of at least 95-degree temperatures by 2050 and 36 days by 2085, according to the report.
If the average global atmospheric carbon dioxide level more than doubles from 2020 to 2100, however, that higher-risk trajectory puts the county at over a month’s worth of 95-degree days by 2050 and over two months’ worth by 2085.
The report also forecasts that the county will see stronger rains as well as a drastic drop in the number of snow days — from around nine days per year to three days or fewer by the end of the century.
“Regardless of which future scenario best aligns with our trajectory, Fairfax County’s governance of assets, systems, and population is likely to be strained if the county is not adequately prepared for these plausible futures,” the report said.
The Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination developed the report as part of its Resilient Fairfax initiative to find strategies and a roadmap for responding to climate problems.
It was accompanied by a NASA report that found ground or pavement temperatures can be as much as 47 degrees higher in urbanized parts of the county compared to undeveloped, forested areas.
A survey conducted for the Resilient Fairfax initiative indicated that residents are already concerned about the impact of severe storms, rising temperatures, and other repercussions of climate change, according to results released in November.
“From stronger storms to longer stretches of extreme heat and humidity, Fairfax County is not immune to the effects of climate change and this report is a crucial piece of the puzzle as we prepare our community to be more resilient in the future,” Agazi said.
Flooding, power outages, and other impacts from storms are among the top climate change-related concerns for Fairfax County residents, the recently released results of a county survey suggest.
606 community members participated in the survey that the Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination (OEEC) conducted between June 8 and July 2 as part of its Resilient Fairfax initiative, which will produce a plan for how the county can withstand and adapt to the threats introduced by a warming planet.
81% of respondents cited severe storms as a concern, followed by changing temperatures (79%) and flooding (60%), according to the survey results report published on Nov. 8.
55% of respondents said they’re concerned about drought, 40% about fire risks, and 19% listed other climate hazards, including air quality and pollution, health effects, and the impact on plants and animals.
While the survey drew responses from just a fraction of the 1.1 million people who live in Fairfax County, the results still offer insight into the community’s awareness of the risks posed by climate change — and how they are already affecting people’s lives, county staff say.
“It helps us gather information that’s not available through quantitative data that we have,” OEEC Senior Planner Allison Homer said. “People’s opinions or people’s concerns, that’s not something we have access to without asking.”
24.6% of the Fairfax County residents who answered the survey said their neighborhood has flooded within the past five years, with 9.8% of residents saying it has affected their home.
Of the respondents who work in the county, 24.8% said they have experienced flooding at their place of employment. 67.1% of respondents said they have witnessed flooding in the county outside their home or work, such as on roads.
The survey identifies Hunter Mill Road, Richmond Highway, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Prosperity Avenue, Huntington Avenue, and Little River Turnpike among the areas most vulnerable to flooding, though Homer says the evenly distributed flood map in the report doesn’t fully align with the county’s data.
“I think it’s sort of biased towards the areas where people lived that are taking the survey,” she said. “Our most flood-prone roads in reality are mostly concentrated towards the eastern part of the county.” Read More
Fairfax County has committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050, and now, it has a plan to achieve that goal.
First proposed by the board’s Environmental Quality Advisory Council in 2018, the plan features an inventory of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions and recommendations for how to curb them so the community can realize its aspirations of carbon neutrality.
“Together, the strategies and actions are intended to power individuals and organizations within the community, to engage in, lead, and champion the emissions reduction needed to achieve county-wide carbon neutrality,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said, reading from the board matter he issued. “Climate change is a major existential crisis already causing major impacts in Fairfax County.”
Proposals include cutting the use of fossil fuel-burning cars, installing solar panels at home, creating more through recycling and composting programs, adopting more stringent green-building policies, and being a “conscious consumer.”
Storck’s motion passed 9-0, with Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity not present during the vote.
A few moments before the vote, Herrity said he was going to abstain due to concerns over timing, lack of proper community engagement, and cost, particularly in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“The economic outlook over the next few years is uncertain,” Herrity said. “Our decisions don’t operate in a vacuum. This plan will have planned and unintended impacts on the economy and taxpayers. Beyond what I’m imagining will be a very steep cost to implement this plan, it will also have a very serious impact on the affordability of homes, increasing the actual cost as well as permitting and regulatory costs.”
The rest of the board countered that the county can’t afford to wait any longer to address the already-existing threat of climate change.
“The cost of doing nothing is significant, if not life-threatening,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “And I think most responsible people who are paying attention to the subject and the science…most certainly get that.”
Storck, who helped spearhead the CECAP as chair of the board’s environmental committee, reiterated that county operations and schools only account for about 5% of Fairfax County’s carbon emissions. The remaining 95% of emissions come from the private sector and the general community.
As noted in a presentation that Storck delivered, transportation and commercial and residential energy consumption are the two largest sources of greenhouse emissions. Combined, those areas produce more than 90% of all emissions in the county.
As a result, while the county will have a leadership role, this new plan is about asking the community to take the necessary steps to curb emissions, Storck said.
“There will be no area, sector, or part of our society that won’t be impacted [by the reduction goals in this plan],” he said. “How much? That’s largely a function of how aggressively we move forward.”
As the county worked to finalize the CECAP over the summer, the United Nations released a sobering report last month that said, even if future emissions are lowered, global temperatures will continue to rise until at least the middle of the 21st century, leading to more extreme weather and other worsening climate issues.
County staff told the board’s environmental committee in July that the CECAP’s implementation was already underway, a process that includes community outreach, public education, and an exhaustive review of existing county policies to see how they line up with the now-accepted plan.
Additional plans related to the initiative’s implementation, such as how the county can build on existing programs, will be presented to the board at an environmental committee meeting in early 2022.
Photo via Sandra Parra/Unsplash