Current Research

Water Resources

Trends in Rainday Frequency in the United States

  • Climate over the last century has raised questions about climate change and one of the more important variables that may undergo change is precipitation. Precipitation can affect many sectors including agriculture, socio-economic activities and hazard management. This dissertation will address the temporal aspect of precipitation using 178 first order stations in the lower 48 States for a 65-year span, 1951-2015. The three objectives of this dissertation are to perform (1) an annual analysis of the frequency of rain days in the United States and changing magnitudes of daily rainfall, (2) monthly and seasonal rain day frequency and magnitudes in the United States, and (3) hourly rain frequency and magnitudes trends throughout the United States. Similar methods will be used throughout these studies including both parametric and non-parametric trend analyses. Methods include a regression analysis testing frequency vs. time, magnitude vs. time, and frequency vs. magnitude. Other methods include the Mann-Kendall test for trends and a Spearman’s correlation analysis. Results will help us better understand changing precipitation climates. This dissertation proposal will give a summary of past studies, methods and findings along with an action plan on the duration and work schedule for completion.

    Research Dates: 2015-2017

    Investigators: Rudy Bartels, Barry Keim

Storm Hazards

Impacts of ENSO on Tornado Frequency and Intensity across the Eastern U.S.

  • Tornadoes are a reoccurring severe weather hazard, with the highest occurrences in the world taking place in the central United States. Despite their high occurrence, this weather feature is still poorly understood, especially regarding their tendencies during the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). In this study, tornado events from 1950 to 2014 in U.S. states east of the Rocky Mountains will be investigated. A predetermined list of El Niño and La Niña years and intensities based on the Oceanic Niño Index (ONI) will be utilized to examine frequencies, distributions and statistical significance. Several models will be developed to evaluate the influences that ENSO phases and intensities have on tornadic distribution, frequency, Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale distribution, track length and duration, and injuries/fatalities in the chosen region. The Destruction Potential Index (DPI) will also be calculated to determine the relationship between ENSO and tornado strength, length and duration. In sum, this paper will focus on how ENSO intensities effect spatial and temporal tornadic variability across the eastern U.S. The goal of this research is to find patterns and correlations of statistical significance that can enhance the current understanding of the tornado-ENSO teleconnection.

    Research Dates: 2015-2017

    Investigators: Coryn Collins, Barry Keim

Relationships of Tropical Storm Size to other Storm Attributes

  • We are trying to determine if trends exist in hurricane size and how this parameter impacts damages along the coast. The insurance industry will likely have an interest in the results.

    Research Dates: 2015-2017

    Investigators: Derek Thompson, Barry Keim

Texas and Oklahoma Climate Extremes

  • In October of 2015, representatives from state and federal agencies representing broad areas of water, public safety, infrastructure and other management participated in a workshop on Texas-Oklahoma Climate Extremes: Learning from the Recent Four-Year Drought and Spring Flooding Events. The workshop was a Southern Plains Drought Early Warning System (DEWS) activity with the goal of improving disaster reduction and building capacity for better decision-making related to drought planning and mitigation. The workshop focused on the successes, challenges, lessons learned, and opportunities for future collaboration related to the recent 2010-2015 drought and spring 2015 flood events. The workshop included presentations and discussions about the shift from extreme drought to floods in 2015 and tactics the participants’ agencies used to manage the impacts of those events. Discussions specifically focused on monitoring tools, agency coordination, unexpected impacts, successes, and public outreach.

    Research Dates: 2015

    Investigators: Mark Shafer, Courtney Black, Leah Kos, David Brown, Victor Murphy, Brian Hoeth, Mark Svoboda


Arkansas Drought Planning

  • SCIPP and NDMC are working with the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (ANRC) to develop a statewide drought preparedness and response plan, and eventually leading to a drought mitigation plan. The process was begun from the annual meeting of the Interstate Council on Water Policy that was held in Little Rock, AR in October 2015. Conversations between ANRC, SCIPP and NDMC led to planning the first workshop (June 2016) among Arkansas state agencies and federal partners to begin the planning process. SCIPP will summarize breakout discussions for use by ANRC in the planning process. SCIPP and NDMC will continue to support ANRC until a plan is adopted.

    Research Dates: 2016-2017

    Investigators: Trevor Timberlake, Mark Shafer, Mike Hayes, Deborah Bathke

Cities, Counties and Parishes throughout the SCIPP region

  • SCIPP conducted a survey of cities, counties and parishes in the six-state region to inform drought information providers how local jurisdictions are affected by drought, how they monitor conditions, and how they communicate that information. The survey was distributed in Fall 2014 to local conservation districts, extension offices, emergency management offices, and water districts in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. There were 331 responses to the survey with all six states represented. The findings will be used to improve connectivity between state drought monitoring and planning and local jurisdictions and to improve drought impact reporting to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

    Research Dates: 2014-2016

    Investigators: Mark Shafer

Drought Decisions and Support in the Rio Grande - Rio Bravo River Basin

  • The Rio Grande/Bravo River Basin (RGB) of the United States and México, is exposed to tornadoes, severe storms, hurricanes, winter storms, wildfire, and drought. In order to contribute to increased binational preparedness, information flow, and knowledge exchange in the region, the project investigators developed a prototype quarterly RGB Climate Outlook. The RGB Outlook features a synthesis of climate products, impact data and analysis, and is expressed in user-friendly language. The RGB Outlook is co-produced with colleagues from the U.S. and Mexico, in conjunction with the North American Climate Services Partnership (NACSP). Using an online survey, the project team will perform an evaluation of the uses of the RGB Outlook, and will report basic use statistics and recommendations for improving the prototype. The survey report can be found here.

    In order to develop capacity in the binational Rio Grande-Rio Bravo (RGB) river basin to cope with drought, use climate prediction information and analysis, and to foster planning for uncertain future conditions, the team will convene a Climate Adaptation Workshop under the auspices of NACSP. Participants will include U.S., Mexican, and Canadian weather, water, and climate information providers, research scientists, and natural resource managers. In the two-day workshop, participants will learn and use scenario planning methods to develop and examine strategies for coping with future climate uncertainty at seasonal and multi-decade time scales. The workshop will facilitate interactions between NACSP scientists, climate services partners, and stakeholders with a focus on ecological, water resources, and economic management challenges and concerns in the RGB, with a focus on drought conditions.

    Research Dates: 2013 - present

    Investigator(s): Mark Shafer, Alek Krautmann, Gregg Garfin

Field Photo Weekends

  • Since 2012, SCIPP, CoCoRaHS, and the Earth Observation and Modeling Facility have conducted a “Field Photo Weekends” project to create a national picture of our landscape. The project started out as a way to compare visual impacts of drought to the kinds of things we measure, like rainfall and stream flow. But the photos of places that are not in drought can be equally valuable, providing a frame of reference for future years and seasons. For each Field Photo Weekend, we ask CoCoRaHS observers and other citizen scientists to take pictures of the land around them - water bodies, fields, forests, or any other facet of our environment - at roughly the same time. These events began with Labor Day Weekend in 2012 and have continued over Presidents Day and Memorial Day ever since. This year, NOAA SARP has provided funding to further develop the project, including improving training materials, access to the database, and analysis of images. In addition, iSeeChange, an NGO that seeks to document environmental changes due to climate change, has joined the project team.

    Field Photos Library Animation

    Research Dates: 2012-2017

    Investigators: Mark Shafer, Nolan Doesken, Xiangming Xiao, Julia Kumari-Drapkin

    Implementation of a Drought App for Mobile Devices

    • Unlike other natural hazards, drought is difficult to detect and difficult to assess its impacts. Also, unlike many other natural hazards, drought can affect any area; it is not confined to regional or physical structures. This poses challenges for monitoring, assessing severity, and communicating the nature of the risk to decision-makers and the general public.

      Each week on the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) discussion list, experts provide local information to add fine detail to the national depiction created by the USDM authors. Much of the input is quantitative, but qualitative information on differential impacts is also considered in the process. Some degree of subjectivity exists in evaluating the relative weights of the various indices and impacts. As a result, what may be considered severe impacts in one location may not be considered as severe as others.

      The Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (SCIPP), the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), and Weather Decision Technologies (WDT) are developing a mobile smartphone app that will convey drought
      information and allow users the opportunity to provide “condition reports”. The app serves two purposes: it puts the many indicators, assessments, forecasts and outlooks used in the USDM process and other drought assessment activities into the hands of a more mobile population, adding an important capability to existing conveyance through websites, media and other methods. However, the two-way ability of the app, allowing user inputs on their perceptions of drought conditions, adds a new data stream to the suite of indicators available to USDM Authors and local experts.

      Research Dates: 2015-2017

      Investigators: Mark Shafer, Mike Wolfinbarger, Mike Hayes

    Improved Seasonal Climate/Drought Forecasting in the SCIPP Region

    • Improved seasonal forecasting could help to mitigate the impacts of extreme heat, a prominent climate hazard in the south-central U.S. Temperature anomalies in this region exhibit temporal autocorrelation from month to month as well as longer time lags, and the magnitude of temperature persistence can provide information that is useful for seasonal climate forecasts. Using high resolution temperature data from 1900-2015, this study examine the spatiotemporal distribution of temperature persistence. Initial results suggest that temperature persistence is strongest during the summer months, and decreases as the lag time increases. Most statistically significant temporal autocorrelations are present at month-to-month timescales, however some locations do see significant temperature persistence at longer lag times. When examining the spatiotemporal distribution of temperature persistence, this information can be utilized in order to determine the locations, seasons, and timescales where it is most appropriate to weigh heavily on persistence in constructing a seasonal temperature forecast.

      Research Dates: 2015-2016

      Investigators: Steven Quiring, Trent Ford

    Managing Drought in the Southern Plains

    • A drought of strong intensity and vast geographical extent has gripped areas of the South Central United States for several years. To respond to these severe ongoing conditions, multiple efforts were launched to engage decision makers in regional, state and local arenas in a conversation about drought. A four-pronged approach was used to assure that all of these arenas were addressed: regional workshops, state drought planning, a series of webinars and supporting local impact reporting. The net effect of these efforts is that interaction between these arenas and between the academic and practitioner communities increased substantially. Many decision makers have participated in multiple activities, such as state drought planners attending the regional workshops or local Farm Service Agency offices participating in the drought webinars and impact reporting.

      Research Dates: 2011 - present

      Investigator(s): Mark Shafer, Margret Boone, Alek Krautmann


    The Vulnerability of Oil Refineries and Power Plants to Storm Surge along the U.S. Gulf Coast

    • The storm surge return levels analysis is useful for analyzing the vulnerability of critical infrastructure to storm surge inundation. We collaborated with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to conduct a study on the vulnerability of critical energy infrastructure to storm surge along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Oak Ridge provided the location and elevation of hundreds of energy facilities, while SCIPP provided storm surge return levels. Preliminary results reveal that 72% of coastal refineries and 63% of coastal power plants are vulnerable to the 100-year storm surge along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

      Research Dates: 2014

      Investigator(s): Hal Needham, Amanda Lewis (Billiot), Barry Keim

    Hazard Planning

    Community Hazard Planning

    • Planning is the key to reducing losses to hazardous weather and other natural events. Much is known about disaster processes, how they impact communities, and effective mitigation options. Despite advances in understanding threats and risks, losses continue to mount. Coupling state-of-knowledge on hazards with community development decisions is a critical step to reduce future loses.

      Perhaps one contribution to the challenges of implementation is the multitude of plans that contain some portion of the hazard mitigation process. Cities and states may have hazard mitigation plans, emergency response plans, comprehensive plans, water plans, drought plans, economic development plans, stormwater management plans, and even in some cases climate adaptation plans. But which of these are actually used in making planning decisions? Some plans may exist simply because they are mandated or necessary eligibility criteria for grants. In such cases, the plans may have little actual influence on hazard mitigation decisions made by communities or states.

      To investigate the effectiveness of and relationship between types of plans, we propose reviewing plans for several communities to identify characteristics that should be included in the community’s most-used plans. This is likely to be the city’s comprehensive plan and their emergency response plan.

      Research Dates: 2016

      Investigators: Dawn Jourdan, Mark Shafer

    Summer Internship - Tulsa Partners

    • Research Dates: 2015-2016

      Investigators: Tim Lovell, Alex Nongard, Derrick Jones, Cara Vandersel, Mark Shafer, Rachel Riley, Margret Boone

      The project conducted a preliminary investigation of perceptions, knowledge, and action on flood hazard mitigation and emergency preparedness in West Tulsa in areas located behind two
      different ageing levees. The project was hosted and led by Tulsa Partners, inc., a non-profit community organization, in association with SCIPP, the City of Tulsa, Tulsa County, and the Oklahoma Silver Jackets. A survey was constructed and administered to assess flood risk awareness, mitigation efforts, and preparedness efforts and to discover the best forms of outreach to these communities. These results are part of a larger Program for Public Information (PPI) and will serve as a baseline measure for how effective future flood-related public information is. Continuing work focuses upon the effectiveness of community-wide risk communication messages as part of the PPI.

    Measuring Impacts

    Field Photo Weekends

    • For the past 3 years, SCIPP, CoCoRaHS, and the Earth Observation and Modeling Facility have conducted a “Field Photos Weekend” project to create a national picture of our landscape. The project started out as a way to compare visual impacts of drought to the kinds of things we measure, like rainfall and stream flow. But the photos of places that are not in drought can be equally valuable, providing a frame of reference for future years and seasons.

      For each Field Photos Weekend, we asked CoCoRaHS observers and other citizen scientists to take pictures of the land around them - water bodies, fields, forests, or any other facet of our environment - at roughly the same time. These events began with Labor Day Weekend in 2012 and have continued over Presidents Day and Memorial Day ever since.

      For additional details about the project or taking or posting photos, please see our Field Photos Reference Sheet.

      Research Dates: 2012 - present

      Investigator(s): Mark Shafer, Henry Reges, Xiangming Xiao, and Katy Christian