News & Politics

Washington’s Climate Future: Intense Snowstorms, Longer-Lasting Heat Waves

How the District is preparing for more extreme temperatures.

Photograph by Flickr user Andrés Nieto Porras.

In the coming century, DC will likely experience intensified and longer lasting heat waves and warmer winters. When it does snow, storms could dump double the average precipitation, according to climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe and Capitol Weather Gang’s Jason Samenow.

“When we put more greenhouse gases in the air, you can think of them as steroids,” Samenow said, discussing the future of extreme weather events. But the future won’t be all sunshine and snow days; studies have also shown parts of the District could be underwater in the next 100 years.

Hayhoe and Samenow spoke last night as part of National Geographic’s “Forecasting Our Future” panel, about how Washington might fare in coming years—and what the District of Columbia can do about it.

While extreme weather and climate events are likely to become more common, especially after 2050, “There’s plenty we can do,” Hayhoe said.

Tommy Wells, head of the District Department of the Environment, outlined several of the city’s specific strategies to alleviate environmental stressors. The Director expects DDOE to release a citywide climate preparedness and resiliency plan in April with detailed actions to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Also in the works: a sea wall around Blue Plains Water Treatment Plant to prevent overflow in the event of flooding.

And to combat urban heat islands, upwards of 8,000 trees planted a year as well as the promotion of green roofs on residential and commercial buildings. The city also plans to cut emissions 50 percent by 2032. Wells emphasized the need for innovation to achieve these goals, but Hayhoe says recognizing what is coming for the area is a big step.

“The city has an abundance of information on how they are affected everyday by the climate and weather, in almost every aspect you can imagine. Everything from waste pickup to infrastructure management. Even tourism is affected by the weather and by climate,” Hayhoe said. “The future depends on the choices we make.”