Last November, David R. Legates, a retired professor of climatology, geography and spatial sciences at the University of Delaware, joined the advisory board of A Better Delaware, a nonpartisan public policy and political advocacy organization that supports pro-growth policies, as well as greater transparency and accountability in our state government.
He served as research scientist at the Southern Regional Climate Center and Center for Computational Geosciences and was also a visiting research scientist at the National Climatic Data Center.
Recently, he was the executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Here, he shares his views on climate change in Delaware. Answers are edited for brevity.
There are three important concerns that are weather-related—coastal erosion, floods and droughts. More important than sea-level rise, Delaware’s coastline is affected by coastal erosion from natural processes accentuated by the occasional nor’easters and tropical storm remnants that impact the coast. Further development is likely to exacerbate the frequency and intensity of droughts as the demand for water increases. Flooding is likely to be mitigated somewhat due to a better knowledge of surface water hydrology and the more judicious use of retention ponds, but locally, flash floods during heavy rainfall on an increasingly urbanized landscape may exacerbate local flooding.
Industries related to water—be they dependent on water to produce their product or service or located along rivers or the coast. And with some isolated exceptions, the impacts will be likely be negative. …Activities along the coast, especially tourist-based industries, are likely to be affected. The shoreline will continue to erode and, unless bolstered by beach replenishment, will encroach upon beaches and structures. But it also must be remembered that it is not the mean sea level that is the problem [but] the sea level that rises [with major] storms. Those events usually create severe and extended disruption to transportation and communication as well as all most normal life activities.
A number of years ago, a discussion was begun regarding what to do about beach erosion in Bethany Beach [and other] communities along the Atlantic Coast. Should we continue to pay for expensive beach replenishment activities, or do we concede the beach to the Atlantic Ocean and withdraw from beachfront properties…as the processes that affect the barrier island [that Delaware is] to take their course? If we decide to save Bethany, who pays for the expense—tourists, residents, citizens of the state who benefit from the tourism that the beaches derive…or some combination thereof? The state must resurrect this discussion. Moreover, homeowners and business people need to take more responsibility for their decisions.
Storms, floods and droughts have occurred in the past and will continue to occur in the future. Businesses, therefore, must be prepared for the disruption of electricity, natural gas and transportation that is likely to occur during storm events resulting from high winds and heavy rains. Businesses that rely on water or on products and raw materials that rely on water, such as produce markets, must plan for the inevitable drought that will recur.
Related: The Aftermath of Hurricane Ida Causes Massive Flooding in Wilmington