News

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.

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: http://www.southernclimate.org/documents/Changing_Fire_Regimes.pdf.