GreenLaurel: Will rain levels ever go back to normal?

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When being no. 1 is not optimal. Credit: N.O.A.A.

This edition of GreenLaurel is sponsored by the upcoming Chesapeake Film Festival. On Saturday, October 13, the waterfront Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM) will host a day of environmental films as part of the film festival. Click here for the full schedule of films.

To answer that question in the headline–no. This is a taste of the new normal. Scientists answered the rain question decades ago. Now we’re living with climate change, and it’s catching a lot of us off guard. Your next step might be awareness, then action and adaptation. We have a few ideas for all three.

So far in 2018, 53 inches of rain has fallen on our town, putting us on pace for a new record. The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration ranked 2018 as Maryland’s wettest year since 1895 (see last chart below).

Awareness: It’s a bummer that our local weather forecasters don’t continually show the graph below, because it has been consistently getting rainier. As air temperatures have risen and warmed the oceans, the two factors combined work against us when it comes to rain. Hotter oceans release more water vapor, which collects in greater amounts in clouds. Clouds with more water dump more rain.

Another factor behind the streak of storms: Scientists think that climate change is messing with our jet stream; it’s more wobbly and weakened and gets “stuck,” leading to more weather extremes like Mack Daddy rain events and frigid polar vortexes in winter. The point is, this is the new normal.

And it’s messing with everything from pipes to waterways. Too much rain overloads Baltimore City’s cracked sewage infrastructure and sewage leaks into streets, and eventually into our bay. Too much rain throws off the Chesapeake Bay’s salt levels and make the waters unhealthy for oysters, and also washes more city grime into the estuary. And who isn’t talking about sump pumps? Basements that have never flooded are now wet.

Baltimore gets 4.5 more inches of rain on average today than a century ago. As our ocean and air temps continue to warm, the rains will continue to rise. Credit: chesapeakedata.com/changingchesapeake

Action and Adaptation:

You may not know this, but Maryland ranks among the country’s greenest states, thanks to its environmental laws. We can all take steps today that aren’t available in other states.

The most meaningful action you can take is to start looking into renewable energy sources that can be installed at your house or office–or, better yet, at an off-site community solar center.

Because many rooftops aren’t solar-friendly, the Maryland General Assembly in 2015 passed the Community Solar Act. This law puts in place a process allowing anyone who pays a utility bill–BGE in Baltimore–to be able to buy into a share of a new solar installation at a more convenient site. Before you even think, “isn’t it more expensive…”: it isn’t. Renewable energy is available at rates that beat BGE with no out-of-pocket investment. Take a look at Solar United Neighbors of Maryland to investigate if solar is doable at your place, and check out Neighborhood Sun to see where you can buy into a community solar program in the BGE territory.

Adaptation involves some planning, and here are two areas to consider.

  • Sump pump backups: If the power goes out and it’s raining six inches in five hours, your sump pump will need a battery backup. Another option is to install an emergency backup hooked up to city water pressure, which means you never need to replace the battery. As a precaution, check your homeowner’s insurance to make sure you have basement flooding checked (most do not).
  • Leaky homes: If your home consistently places in the bottom bar for efficiency in your BGE energy report (see below), consider accessing EmPOWER Maryland energy-efficiency programs to find out why you waste so much energy. Make sure BGE has coded your house and square footage correctly by updating your house info online. Just FYI, you’re already paying into EmPOWER Maryland, and there are seven amazing programs, all state-sponsored, to help you tighten your home’s envelope.
If your home uses more energy than your neighbors, your BGE bills will continue to rise as weather gets less predictable. Leaky homes are a waster of energy and cash.

Laurel Peltier
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Laurel Peltier

Laurel writes the environmental GreenLaurel column every other Thursday in the Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of UVA's MBA program, she spends her time with her family and making "all things green" interesting.
Laurel Peltier
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