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Posted at 10:15 AM ET, 01/05/2011

Washington D.C. weather in the year 2076

A look ahead weatherwise and otherwise...

As the year, and the decade* have drawn to a close, many are looking back at the stand-out stories that have captured our attention. Instead, I've chosen to look ahead. But regardless of which side of the (political) fence you're on, take my little futuristic journey with a grain of salt. The various projections and assumptions are drawn from a variety of sources and are quite controversial, to say the least. Others are strictly whimsical.

Flash forward to December 2076, America's tercentennial (sometimes called tricentennial) year. Following is how the year unfolded...

Since the N.Y. Times Square ball-drop tradition was discontinued many years ago due to environmental concerns (cleaning up) and terrorist worries, we once again rang in the new year watching a small ball drop inside the NBC, or was it ABC, studios. Weatherwise, our fourth century as a nation came in on a mild note with tranquil weather coast to coast, forcing would-be skiers to travel to high altitude spots in the northern Rockies to enjoy their sport. The Winter Olympics, previously scheduled for Lake Placid, was relocated to Alaska due to the lack of natural snow and inability to even make snow.

The year's second month ushered in some unusual warmth which continued all the way to the Presidents' Day holiday, in honor of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Barack Obama. (Cut me some slack.) A slight cool-down then took hold and lasted until the end of the month.

Below-freezing nighttime temperatures were actually noted at the Washington Post building, DC's official measuring station for the last 46 years, ever since Reagan National Airport was closed in 2030, much to the consternation of some lawmakers, but long sought by others, especially after the 9/11/2001 tragedy. The weather community, however, heartily supported the relocation, as it was believed for many years that the old airport location consistently misrepresented Washington's climate as being too warm with too little snow (when annual snowfalls were more common).

All in all, meteorological winter ended with a continued decline, as might be expected, in the winter sports and apparel industries. On the brighter side, there are estimates that even though, worldwide, heat-related deaths have increased, cold-related deaths have decreased.

As it does so often, the month came in like a lamb and DC's annual cherry blossom festival began as usual in early March, about a month earlier than the first part of the century. The cherry trees themselves, however, have shown severe signs of stress due to summertime drought and the recurring flooding of the Potomac caused by a one foot sea level rise during the past 50 years. It's now believed that the 2005 simulation of the New York City waterfront with only an 18 inch sea level rise will, indeed, look like this (video)** relatively soon.

Washingtonians were already planning their summer "getaways" to escape the anticipated torrid conditions, the increasingly poor air quality, and onslaught of disease-breeding mosquitoes. The latter have been much more troublesome in recent years due to the warmer weather and frequent pools of standing water in flood-prone areas. The standing water, of course, has increased the mosquito breeding rate and the warmth, according to scientists, has increased their range and biting rate. Because of this, those in favor of re-introducing DDT, long banned since 1980, appear to be winning their battle.

A favorite vacation spot for those summer getaways has always been Ocean City, MD. However, this resort (as well as other barrier island resorts) has had increasing difficulty in attracting its usual vacationers due to the aforementioned sea level rise. This has caused a shortage of hotel space because of: (a) ongoing beach replenishment projects costing hundreds of million of dollars which have caused great disruption; and (b) significant renovation costs to shore up or even relocate beachfront hotels.

With the growing season in full swing, farmers continued to evaluate the effect of longer growing seasons on their crops. While some crops, like the sugar beet, have been benefiting, cereal crops such as rye suffer because "they need to devote more energy to vegetative growth than to the seed that we eat."

On another front, global warming has adversely affected some of the nation's, and for that matter, some of the world's, prime grape-growing countries, such as France, Italy, and Spain and they can no longer produce their fine wines of the past. Taking up the slack, however, are other regions like Sweden, Scotland, Belgium, and England, where good wine grapes haven't been grown since the time of the Romans, but are now. (Beginning around 1350 or so, for almost 500 years, the colder weather during the Little Ice Age abruptly ended the wine-making industry in northern Europe.)

Northern Europeans eventually lost the knowledge of how to grow wine grapes and eventually turned to beer-making, as hops were in good supply. Even children drank the beer because water supplies were often quite putrid. After generations of beer-making, northern Europeans, of course, began to migrate to America, particularly to the heartland, where the tradition was continued. It is there, some say, that beer is still "king," But wine consumption--and wine making--on both the East and West Coasts is relatively high.

By the way, the District of Columbia holds the distinction of having the nation's highest rate of wine consumption per capita, with an average of almost 9 gallons per person. The country? Vatican City-State, with over 17 gallons per person. (Figures extrapolated from the last known survey, which was taken in 2005 and which reflected 8 and 16 gallons, respectively.)

With summer heat already enveloping much of the nation, meteorological summer began on June 1st amidst projections of another very active (in terms of both frequency and intensity) Atlantic hurricane season, partly due to the continued rise in sea surface temperatures. Back in 2008, this theory was not universally accepted, however. An alternate theory had been that overall activity would not necessarily increase but that the strong storms would be even stronger.

In terms of heat, a prediction was made 89 years ago that Washington could see almost double (to about 70) the existing number of ninety degree days by the year 2100. Since this prediction seems to be materializing, the District is now experiencing many more deaths from strokes, heart attacks and asthmatic attacks than in 2010. Also, with the increase in ground-level ozone, about 42 more DC deaths, mostly from asthma-related causes, are occurring for each day of ozone elevation.

Stay tuned for Part II of my look-back at how the year 2076 unfolded, both weatherwise and otherwise. What are your thought about the weather (and other things) 66 years from now?

*The National Weather Service, at least, considers the end of this decade to be the end of this month. Normal tables will be revised to include only the period from 1980 through 2010.
**Courtesy of the PEW Foundation

By  |  10:15 AM ET, 01/05/2011

Categories:  Climate Change, Climate Change, Climate Change

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