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Fourth National Climate Assessment, Vol II | 12.12.2018

Recently, 13 USFederal agencies released the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), Volume II, Climate Change Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States. The National Climate Assessment is the most comprehensive, authoritative assessment of the effects of climate change on the US economy and communities. Included in the NCA4 is an assessment of climate variability and change and its impacts across the South Central United States. Notably, the states comprising the SCIPP region are represented in both Chapter 19: Southeast (Arkansas, Louisiana and coastal Mississippi) and Chapter 23: Southern Great Plains (Oklahoma and Texas).

Threatened infrastructure, altering ecosystems and species distributions, increased heath threats, urban and rural industry impacts, and sea level rise are among the major concerns and challenges detailed in the Southeast and Southern Great Plain chapters. In economic terms, the impacts add up to billions of dollars. The assessment finds that early action to address these impacts can lower economic, environmental, social, and cultural costs and could help to prevent conflict or displacement from lands and resources.

Both chapters lay out the changes already being felt in the South Central United States, as well as what lies ahead. The top findings for each region are included below.

The top findings for the Southeast include:

  • Expanding urbanization is creating new climate vulnerabilities for cities, especially on infrastructure and health. Poor air quality due to pollutants, wildfires and allergens, as well as heat-related illnesses are expected to increase with longer summer heat waves. Cities will also experience a greater risk to vector-borne diseases as favorable conditions for transmission will expand to year-round. More frequent heavy rainfall and flooding events are weakening the region’s roads and transit, and by 2050 the Southeast is expected to have the most vulnerable bridges in the nation.
  • Sea level rise has increased flooding in coastal and low-lying regions. Rising temperatures and changing ocean currents have contributed to increases in local relative sea levels at a rate higher than the global average and is resulting in greater high tide flooding frequencies and inland-moving storm surge. As sea levels continue to rise, flooding from these events are expected to increase in both frequency and duration and will further impact regions within flood prone areas such as on road closures, storm water management systems, and deterioration of infrastructure due to saltwater.
  • Ecosystems are threatened by a changing climate and will be transformed from shifting winter temperature extremes, wildfire patterns, rising sea levels, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and warming ocean temperatures. By 2100, a lengthening freeze-free season and less frequent and intense cold temperatures will lead to the northward migration and redistribution of tropical and subtropical species and organisms including insects, birds and plants. In addition, increased wildfire risks and invasive species will negatively impact the agriculture and forest industries.
  • Rural communities will experience greater health and economic vulnerabilities from increasing heat extremes and changing seasons. Agriculture, timber and manufacturing sectors are imperial across the Southeast and are at risk of decreasing productivity and losing over one-half billion labor hours to extreme heat-related impacts by 2100. More than half of the land across the Southeast remains rural and will experience greater health risks and stresses on cooling demands, especially on poverty-stricken areas.

The top findings for the Southern Great Plains include:

  • Demands for food, energy and water resources will increase with growing populations, urban economic development opportunities and increasing drought periods. Recent severe droughts exposed challenges at the intersection of these three resources, negatively impacting agriculture production, water consumption and treatment, and energy production. Increasing hydrological extremes along with a projected 20% increase in water demand by mid-century due to population growth will continue to deepen these impacts across the Southern Great Plains.
  • Habitats of species are being altered by a changing climate. Rising temperatures and the shift to a drier climate have led to the northward migration of species such as birds and butterflies and threatens the decline of certain species including the lesser prairie-chicken. Higher water temperatures and lower salinity levels have led to an increase in harmful algae blooms and threatens sensitive estuarian species.
  • Infrastructure is becoming increasingly vulnerable to rising temperatures, extreme precipitation and continued sea level rise. Longer, hotter summers will create more stress on cooling systems, energy utilities and road surfaces. Increases in both heavy rain and drought periods will further threaten roads, aging pipelines, sewer lines, building foundations, and several dams and levees. The coastal region of Texas is especially vulnerable to rising sea levels, experiencing higher than normal rates due to the extraction of fossil fuels and groundwater. By 2050, an expected $30 billion in property values will be exposed to rising sea levels and more frequent flooding.
  • These changes will negatively impact human health, including through heat related illnesses and deaths, and diseases transmitted through food, water and insects.
  • Climate-induced changes pose an existential threat to Indigenous peoples, including to tribal cultural traditions and community resilience. Excessive heat, drought and the changing of native species are disrupting ceremonial cycles and increasing health threats. Efforts to build community resilience can be hindered by economic, political and infrastructure limitations, but opportunities exist to implement adaptation practices otherwise limited to city and state governments.

In the face of such risks, groups across the region are working together to identify opportunities for adaptation and to lessen impacts from a changing climate. Current regional adaptation actions across the SCIPP region include integrating climate services and early warning systems to improve the development of sustainable infrastructure and increase agricultural production. Other examples of adaptation measures include installing cool roofs to lessen heat impacts, improving planning and monitoring prior to flood events, strengthening or relocating critical infrastructure, participating in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Rating System program, practicing prescribed fire to reduce wildfire impacts, and implementing drought contingency plans and water-use cutbacks. As the science is becoming more evident, adaptation strategies will continue to increase the opportunities for policymakers, practitioners and scientists across the SCIPP region to increase resiliency and lessen impacts in a changing climate.

About the Fourth National Climate Assessment

Mandated in the Global Change Research Act passed by Congress in 1990, the National Climate Assessment synthesizes the state of climate knowledge and assesses climate change impacts, risks, and adaptation across the United States
every four years. The main objective is to help Americans better identify, avoid, and/or reduce climate-related risks. The National Climate Assessment process relies on consensus and undergoes extensive review.

Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment builds upon the physical science assessment presented in Volume I, the Climate Science Special Report, released in November 2017. Vol. II places a strong emphasis on regional information, addressing the impacts of climate change on 10 regions of the United States. It also evaluates the risks from climate changes across 15 national-level topics, often using case studies to provide additional context and showcase community success stories.

The report was written by more than 300 Federal and non-Federal authors representing a range of expertise, a number of whom were selected through a public call for nominations. The Southeast chapter has nine authors, the lead
author of which was former LSU SCIPP program manager Dr. Lynne Carter, and five technical contributors including LSU SCIPP’s Vincent Brown and Dr. Barry Keim. The Southern Great Plains chapter has 15 authors including OU SCIPP’s Dr. Mark Shafer, and one technical contributor. Both chapters are backed by more than 190 citations from published articles, reports, and books.

New Tool: Simple Planning Tool for Arkansas Climate Hazards | 11.15.2018

The Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (SCIPP) is pleased to announce a new tool that will assist planners and emergency managers across the state of Arkansas with assessing their long-term climate risks. It is called the Simple Planning Tool for Arkansas Climate Hazards. In addition to the previous hyperlink, the tool is also available by clicking on the Data Tools tab on our website.

SCIPP has been actively involved with emergency management and planning sectors throughout the South Central U.S. over the past few years. In 2017 and 2018, SCIPP partnered with the Arkansas Chapter of the American Planning Association to host meetings in Bentonville and Siloam Springs for planners and emergency managers who were interested in improving hazard planning and building resilience. Through those interactions, the need for a tool that could help identify locally-relevant climate information that can be used in plans such as hazard mitigation plans, land use plans, comprehensive plans, etc. was identified. Meeting participants said that they did not always know where to find data and/or which organizations to trust. Iterative feedback led to SCIPP developing the Simple Planning Tool for Arkansas Climate Hazards. A version for Oklahoma is also available.

Meetings with planners and emergency managers about increasing resilience led to the development of the Simple Planning Tool for Arkansas Climate Hazards.
Meetings with planners and emergency managers about increasing resilience led to the development of the Simple Planning Tool for Arkansas Climate Hazards.

The tool is a compilation of relatively easy-to-use online interactive tools, maps, and graphs that depict historical climatologies. It also provides state-of-the-science summaries regarding what is known about how each hazard is being and is expected to be impacted by climate change. It is primarily designed for planners and emergency managers who serve small- to medium-sized communities but may also be of interest to those who serve larger areas. While it may not answer every question one has about hazard climatologies and future trends, it aims to cut through the internet clutter and point to relatively simple data tools that can be used during planning processes and in plans.

New Tool: Simple Planning Tool for Oklahoma Climate Hazards | 4.30.2018

The Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (SCIPP) is pleased to announce a new tool that will assist planners and emergency managers across the state of Oklahoma with assessing their long-term climate risks. It is called the Simple Planning Tool for Oklahoma Climate Hazards. In addition to the previous hyperlink, the tool is also available by clicking on the Data Tools tab on this website.

SCIPP has been actively involved with emergency management and planning sectors throughout the South Central U.S. over the past few years. Workshops and webinars held in Oklahoma and Arkansas brought together the two sectors and enhanced the natural hazard resilience discussions that were taking place at local, tribal and regional levels across each state. In a 2017 meeting in Oklahoma, decision makers identified the need for a tool to help them identify locally-relevant climate information that can be used in plans such as hazard mitigation plans, land use plans, comprehensive plans, etc. Meeting participants said that they did not always know where to find data and/or which organizations to trust. Based on this feedback, SCIPP developed the Simple Planning Tool for Oklahoma Climate Hazards.

Meetings with planners and emergency managers about increasing resilience led to the development of the Simple Planning Tool for Oklahoma Climate Hazards.
Meetings with planners and emergency managers about increasing resilience led to the development of the Simple Planning Tool for Oklahoma Climate Hazards.

The tool is a compilation of relatively easy-to-use online interactive tools, maps, and graphs that depict historical climatologies. It also provides state-of-the-science summaries regarding what is known about how each hazard is being and is expected to be impacted by climate change. It is primarily designed for planners and emergency managers who serve small- to medium-sized communities but may also be of interest to those who serve larger areas. While it may not answer every question one has about hazard climatologies and future trends, it aims to cut through the internet clutter and point to relatively simple data tools that can be used during planning processes and in plans.

SCIPP will now begin developing a version for Arkansas. Following the release of the Arkansas version, SCIPP will conduct research on how the tools are used in planning and decision making processes and their effectiveness in both states. If you are interested in providing information on your experience with the Simple Planning Tool, please contact scipp [at] southernclimate [dot] org.

Strategic Petroleum Reserve Climate Change and Resilience Assessment | 2.27.2018

SCIPP partnered with two Department of Energy entities – the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to develop a climate change resilience plan for the SPR. The SPR is the world’s largest emergency supply of crude oil with a capacity of 727 million barrels. Current holdings consist of around 650 million barrels, enough oil to replace foreign imports for around 140 days. The SPR can also provide short term “loans” of oil to refiners so that they can maintain operations when oil imports are disrupted by hurricane activity in the Gulf of Mexico – and did so for Hurricane Harvey in August and September of 2017. Figure 1 shows that SPR stores their oil reserves in underground salt domes at four sites along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast: Bayou Choctaw near Baton Rouge, LA; Big Hill near Winnie, TX; Bryan Mound near Freeport, TX; and West Hackberry near Hackberry, LA, with administration offices located at a fifth site in New Orleans, LA.

Figure 1: Strategic Petroleum Reserve Storage Locations (Courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy)
Figure 1: Strategic Petroleum Reserve Storage Locations (Image courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy)

The work began by evaluating the mission-critical objectives of SPR; for example, the ability to extract oil from the underground salt domes. First, we evaluated the impact of current climate conditions on SPR’s ability to meet each objective. SCIPP then used future climate projections to evaluate how those mission relevant climate variables would change in the future. Several brainstorming sessions resulted in a list of options to reduce the impacts of a changing climate on SPR operations. These were evaluated in terms of feasibility, cost, and potential to reduce vulnerability or increase resilience to changing climate. Two meetings to exchange ideas and present results to SPR management were held at the SPR Headquarters in New Orleans in October 2016 and April 2017, and the final report from the work was completed in June 2017. The results from this effort are being incorporated into an ongoing multi-billion dollar infrastructure improvement effort at the SPR sites. For example, based on SCIPP’s assessment of future climate, a replacement building at Bayou Choctaw (Figure 2) will be elevated to better protect it from flooding in the future.

Figure 2: SCIPP PI Dr. Barry Keim outside the Bayou Choctaw SPR site near Baton Rouge, LA.
Figure 2: SCIPP PI Dr. Barry Keim outside the Bayou Choctaw SPR site near Baton Rouge, LA.

Using Critical Thresholds to Customize Climate Projections in Support of Local Decisions | 8.9.2017

Global climate projections provide information that can motivate action on a national or regional scale but do not necessarily provide the amount of detail that is useful at a local level or information that is relevant to a community. Historically, climate projection analyses have been based on thresholds that were determined by scientists. However, as scientists have worked harder to connect their work with local and state level stakeholders, they have begun to realize that a single threshold may have very different meanings in different communities. For example, 90°F in Texas is certainly hot but occurs relatively frequently, so Texans have adapted to that temperature by using air conditioning. However, 90°F in Wisconsin will likely have larger impacts because air conditioning is less common and Wisconsinites don’t experience that temperature as often.

SCIPP partnered with Adaptation International (lead), CLIMAS, WWA, ISET-International, and ATMOS Research, to pilot a participatory process to identify locally relevant critical thresholds for extreme events, and use those thresholds to customize climate projections to community-specific needs. The work was funded by the NOAA Sectoral Applications Research Program. The team engaged with four small- to medium-sized communities: Boulder, CO, Las Cruces, NM, Miami, OK and San Angelo, TX. SCIPP was involved with the work in Miami, OK and San Angelo, TX.

Ground work was laid in each city before developing the custom climate projections. Two workshops, called Shared Learning Dialogues, were held with stakeholders who represented a variety of sectors and functions within the local government in each city to identify potential climate thresholds and discuss what actions could be taken to address the challenges associated with existing hazards as well and the hazards that the community may face in the future. In between each workshop, project team members had additional discussions with stakeholders to further refine the thresholds, then ATMOS Research computed projections at the chosen thresholds specific to each of the four communities.

Example projection for San Angelo, TX: Average duration of hot spells when the high temperature is greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Example projection for San Angelo, TX: Average duration of hot spells (in days) when the high temperature is at least 100°F.

Not all projections were possible to produce due to scientific or funding limitations. For example, some of the climate variables that stakeholders in Miami were interested in receiving projections for included tornadoes and ice storms. However, climate projections for tornadoes are not currently possible due to observational data and other scientific limitations. Ice storm projections are scientifically possible but were not possible to produce for this project due to funding limitations.

The project ended with each pilot community determining a resilience action based on the threshold analyses that could be implemented using approximately $10,000 in seed funding provided by the grant. The projects that were selected by the community stakeholders in SCIPP’s region included: developing a lesson on extreme weather and preparedness for 8th graders in Miami, OK and designing and installing a rainwater harvesting system at a local park to demonstrate city leadership, save money, water trees, and be better prepared for drought in San Angelo. Further, the seed funding spurred additional action in at least one of the four cities, including that Las Cruces leveraged San Angelo’s resilience action and then developed a green infrastructure plan for a neighborhood. The green infrastructure plan was then used to secure an additional $400,000 in grants and matching funds to begin to renovate and install green infrastructure in a portion of a traditionally under served neighborhood.

Left: Students in Miami, OK learned about extreme weather preparedness. Right: Installed rainwater harvesting system in San Angelo, TX.
Left: Students in Miami, OK learned about extreme weather preparedness. Right: Installed rainwater harvesting system in San Angelo, TX.

For additional information, including project materials, visit this project on the Past Research page here.