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.

New Report: Local Drought Management | 7.25.2017

SCIPP has released a new report titled Local Drought Management: A summary of how counties and parishes use drought information in the South Central United States. The report can be found here.

NOAA and other partners have made amazing strides over the past decade to improve drought monitoring, preparedness, response, and mitigation. How do these national efforts reflect at the local level? The Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (SCIPP), a NOAA RISA Team, conducted a survey of county-level offices in a six-state region in the South Central United States to answer this question. The project revealed an active local network, especially in the relatively drier states in the western part of the region (Texas and Oklahoma), working to help their communities, businesses, and individuals manage drought. Those in the network had access to a wealth of information, but there are opportunities to improve their connection, particularly through the U.S. Drought Monitor process and representing local conditions.

New Report: Changing Fire Regimes and Management Strategies | 7.13.2017

In conjunction with SCIPP PI Dr. Mark Shafer, graduate student Darrian Bertrand wrote a report on Changing Fire Regimes and Management Strategies. Her research was funded by the South Central Climate Science Center (SC-CSC) and supported by SCIPP.

Fire is a natural and necessary component of the South Central Plains ecosystem. However, fire suppression and more frequent droughts in the region have resulted in a build-up of dry fuels loads such as dead wood, resulting in fires that burn hotter and impact the landscape more severely. Uncontrolled wildfires have cost the region several billion dollars in the past five years. Further, fire suppression has resulted in substantial losses in native plant biodiversity and wildlife habitat, which also has costly implications. In Oklahoma alone, it’s estimated that $157 million will be required to restore rangelands to their native conditions. Of further concern is the fact that projected changes in climate indicate that the region will continue to experience hotter and drier conditions, meaning that fire risks will continue to increase unless proper management strategies, such as prescribed fire, are implemented.

In order to develop effective fire management responses, ongoing research into the changing scope and intensity of fire regimes in the region needs to be better connected to management practitioners and their expertise.This project will help managers respond to changing fire regimes by analyzing historical climate observations and future projections to identify days which are suitable for prescribed burns as well as days of high wildfire potential.

Prescribed burning is a management tool used to reduce fuel loads and lessen the risk of severe wildland fire across the South Central Plains, but little is known about the change in weather conditions suitable for these days over time. To conduct a prescribed burn, weather conditions must be in a certain safety range. For example, there must be enough wind to start a fire and allow the smoke plume to disperse, but excessively strong winds would allow the fire to grow out of control. A rising issue is climate change, for if prescribed burns are only safe within a distinct threshold, then changing climate conditions may alter this small window of opportunity. This project documents the seasonal and inter-annual variability of suitable burn conditions across the South Central Plains region of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Prescribed Burn Associations from the included states were contacted for minimum and maximum thresholds of temperature, wind speed, and relative humidity in order to obtain the appropriate values for data analysis. Hourly data for the time period of 1996-2015 were analyzed in order to produce a climatological analysis of burn conditions, and a glimpse into future conditions indicates a potential change in the frequency of these suitable burn conditions by the end of the century.

The full report is available in the SCIPP Documents section of our website. It can also be found here:

NOAA NCEI State Climate Summaries Available | 5.30.2017

Following the release of the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment in 2014, demand grew for state-specific climate summary documents. In response, NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI, formerly NCDC), in conjunction with input from state climatologists and other climate experts, produced summaries that cover historical climate conditions and future climate scenarios based on well-established sources. The documents also showcase some unique climate information for each state. For example, storm surge and sea level rise are discussed in the Louisiana document and winter storms are covered in Tennessee’s. Each state’s summary can be downloaded for free at The summaries for each of the six SCIPP states are available at the following links:

Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi

Field Photo Weekends: Memorial Day Weekend May 27-29, 2017 | 5.16.2017

“Field Photo Weekends” May 27-29 . . . Celebrate Memorial Day Weekend by taking a photo or two!

Here’s your chance to join hundreds of other CoCoRaHS observers to see what our landscapes look like in spring. If you have participated before, this is a great chance to go back to your favorite spots and see what has changed. All you have to do is:

* Take your camera or smartphone;

* Find a landscape in your community (streams, lakes, rivers, reservoirs, a forest, a crop field, a pasture, etc.);

* Take a single photo or a panorama in four different directions (N,E,S,W) from where you are standing. And then take one looking down.

There are four ways to post your photos:

* Use the “Field Photo” App on your phone, which can be downloaded from the “Apple Store” and “Google Play Store”. Enter metadata to describe the landscape and add #CoCoRaHSMay2017 as a keyword;

* Email your photos with your location When uploading your photos, please include the words #CoCoRaHSMay2017 in the notes field. Remember you don’t have to email your photos this weekend, just take them, but we do encourage you to email them soon afterward;

* Upload your photos directly to the (EOMF) Earth Observation and Modeling Facility’s photo archive website:

* Or post your photos on your phone or online to our new partners at, a climate and weather journal that collects stories about change.

Field Photo Weekend is a partnership between CoCoRaHS, the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (SCIPP) and the Earth Observation and Modeling Facility (EOMF) to help ground truth through photos, what is going on with our landscapes throughout the country. It’s not just drought we are looking for either, it could be flooding, fire, or whatever state the landscape is now in. There is the possibility that we may hold additional “Field Photo Weekends” during the year to show how conditions to your landscape may have changed over time. This should be fun!

In a few weeks this weekend’s photos will be posted and you’ll be able to see your photos and those taken by other volunteers. Reference the “FIELD PHOTO WEEKENDS” page to see how to view the photos.

Remember you don’t have to email your photos this weekend, just take them, but we do encourage you to email them soon afterward. That address again is: When uploading your photos please include the words #CoCoRaHSMay17 in the notes field.

Thanks in advance for participating during the Memorial Day weekend ... thanks for snapping!