Ian Locke, director of communications for the Norfolk Tides, has never seen anything like what happened after less than one hour of rainfall in Norfolk, Virginia on Thursday.
“It was so surreal to see the whole baseball field completely underwater like that,” he said. “Our fields usually keep up with draining the water, but it was just too much water too fast, and we couldn’t keep up.”
The local forecaster said 3.41 inches of rain fell in less than an hour in Norfolk and on Thursday afternoon. That’s more than half the amount of rainfall Norfolk usually sees in an average July. The rain started at 3:30 p.m. and lasted about 35 to 40 minutes, according to Amy Valdez, a Virginia Beach battalion chief. In some areas, golfball-sized hail fell and winds reached up to 80 mph.
At the Norfolk Tides stadium, the flooding was one of the worst ever seen on the field, according to Locke. The stadium does border the Elizabeth River, which was worrisome, but it ultimately did not play a part in the flooding.
“We were just hammered by that thunderstorm,” he said.
A minor league baseball field being essentially drowned was by far the most unique effect of Thursday’s storm, but it was not the only damage that occurred. Significant structural damage was reported at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, and ten people were injured, Virginia Beach spokeswoman Amy Valdez told WVEC News. Six of those people were transported to the hospital, two of them with critical but not life-threatening injuries, according to Sentara Hospital spokesman Dale Gauding. The storm left more than 8,000 people without power.
Though it’s impossible to say that Thursday’s storm was directly caused by human-made climate change, it is without question that climate change makes precipitation events more extreme, and increases the likelihood that extreme precipitation events will occur in some areas of the world. That finding has been confirmed by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center, the National Climate Assessment, and multiple peer-reviewed scientific papers.
The way this happens is relatively simple. First, as carbon dioxide is emitted from burning fossil fuels and destroying tropical forests, it traps heat in the atmosphere. As the trapped heat raises the planet’s average temperature, the heat evaporates water from the ocean and soil, putting moisture into the atmosphere.
Then, as global temperatures rise, the atmosphere holds more moisture — about 4 percent more per degree of temperature increase. Therefore there is more water vapor available to fall as rain, snow, or hail when storms occur.
Fortunately for the Norfolk Tides, all that meant on Thursday was a cancelled game — and two double headers on Friday and Saturday. Despite how crazy the flooded stadium looked, Locke said the field’s sand was able to absorb it, and workers were able to get the field back into shape.
“It drained great,” he said. “We’re set to play tonight.”