SCIPP has produced a summary of the winter weather event from February 2021 that greatly impacted the south central U.S. It was the coldest event to occur in the SCIPP region in over 30 years, and the prolonged extreme cold coupled with wintry precipitation caused numerous waterline breaks, power outages, and nearly 200 fatalities, amongst other impacts. The summary was produced by SCIPP Climate Assessment Specialist Darrian Bertrand and SCIPP Research Associate Simone Speizer.
February 2021: Extreme Cold, Snow, and Ice in the South Central U.S. is a 30-page document that begins with information about the weather pattern and describes records that were broken, the context of the event compared to climatology, and past historic events. The second half of the document describes impacts to various sectors including energy, water, health, infrastructure, the economy, the environment, and society. Examples of hazard mitigation successes in the region are also provided to encourage stakeholders to reduce their vulnerability for future extreme cold events, especially in the energy sector. These distinct sections allow for easy navigation through the document.
To help meet stakeholder needs, this summary was written for a general audience with the goal of helping individuals compare the south central U.S. February 2021 extreme cold event to past events.
The document was produced by University of Oklahoma regional and city planning graduate student Jessica Langsdon, SCIPP Deputy Director Rachel Riley, and SCIPP Climate Assessment Specialist Darrian Bertrand.
Previous stakeholder feedback indicated that when it comes to climate resilience and adaptation, some are lacking awareness of the planning and financial resources that are available and/or are overwhelmed with the amount of information available on the Internet. SCIPP’s guide improves ease of access to such information and helps bridge the gap between available climate resilience tools and community knowledge of said tools.
Many climate decision support tools have been developed to support a variety of sectors and scales, but evaluation of such tools has only recently begun to take place. SCIPP’s Deputy Director Rachel Riley conducted an evaluation of SCIPP’s Simple Planning Tool for Arkansas and Oklahoma—a decision-maker driven climate hazard assessment tool developed in collaboration with stakeholders. The evaluation, published in the peer-reviewed journal Weather, Climate, and Society, found that the tool has high utility despite a relatively limited user base at the time of the study. The study also advances knowledge on climate decision support tool utility evaluation and demonstrates the impact of a tool within planning contexts.
The Simple Planning Tool compiles relatively easy-to-use online interactive climate tools, maps, and graphs that can assist planners and emergency managers who need to assess historical and future climate hazards for their jurisdiction(s). Riley’s study evaluated its utility and impact on a group of decision-makers in Oklahoma and Arkansas, assessing its saliency, credibility, trustworthiness, and how the tool impacted information use and decision-making. The results showed that the Tool’s user group was relatively small at the time of data collection, which was less than one year since the tool became available. However, the Tool has a high utility for the individuals who used it, representing a range of decision contexts including different jurisdictional sizes, geographical scales, and years of experience. SCIPP designed the Simple Planning Tool in a way that reduces the need for frequent updates, but the Program plans to update it if exceptional new tools become available or significant climate science advancements are made.
Dr. William Howe, SCIPP Climate Assessment Specialist, led three studies that focused on various aspects of climate change and severe weather communication. Recently, three reports were produced. They are summarized below.
In Sharing Expert Decisions: Examining Television Meteorologists’ Tweets of a Severe Weather Forecasting Team’s Warnings, Dr. Howe and co-author Dr. Miranda McLouglin, from Texas Christian University, compared tweets of severe weather events between the National Weather Service (NWS) and local television stations to better understand how media outlets deliver severe weather messages to the public. They analyzed each severe tweet finding significant differences on measures of clout, analytical thinking, and positive emotions. Results showed that while the NWS and television weather outlets held the strongest ability to set the agenda for severe weather messages, they themselves were affected by agenda setting, depicted in the tone and content of the weather messages. The results of this study illustrate why future researchers should approach media studies differentially based on the outlet’s vulnerability to agenda setting.
In his second study, A Social Network Analysis of Climate-Related Information Exchange in the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (SCIPP) Areas of Operation, Dr. Howe examined the relationships between SCIPP’s primary
stakeholders and sources of climate information. He examined familiarity with specific sources, such as the National Climate Assessment, U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, and NCEI/AMS State of the Climate Report, along with
familiarity of climate information providers, such as SCIPP, the USGS South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center, NOAA Southern Regional Climate Center, and local NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Offices. The analysis identified 81 unique organizations, 130 unique connections, and eight distinct groups. The study shows a need for more accessible information to stakeholders and suggests that SCIPP provide more timely updates to increase the relevance of its information. Furthermore, results highlight the critical role of sustained assessment specialists in cultivating stronger relationships, particularly in two areas of focus: universities and underrepresented populations.
In his third study, Climate Change or Extreme Weather Events: Evaluations of Information from Texas Residents According to Message Framing and Source Credibility, Dr. Howe conducted an experiment in which messages were framed differently to see how residents of Texas responded. He found that messages framed as extreme weather events instead of climate change, and messages from federal government sources versus non-profits, were perceived as more credible. The study also found that those with conservative political ideology rated all messages lower on credibility and newsworthiness and that older participants did not find messages to be as newsworthy as younger participants.
SCIPP’s latest annual report, which covers the period June 2019 through May 2020, is now available. The report summarizes our accomplishments, outreach, outputs, and research objective updates during the reporting period.
The annual report highlights two awards granted to SCIPP for the Simple Planning Tools, which were developed in 2018 to assist planners and emergency managers in Oklahoma (and later Arkansas) in evaluating climate risks. Outreach included discussing 2019 Hurricane Barry on BBC World News, presenting to the New Orleans Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Office about Southeast U.S. precipitation trends, continuing to work with the Oklahoma Hazard Mitigation Working Group to improve planning for hazards, facilitating connections between the Disaster Resilience Network and University of Oklahoma researchers, and planning the Texas Resilience Conference (originally scheduled for May 2020), to name a few activities. In addition, the SURGEDAT database continues to provide valuable analyses of storm surges along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Some of the research topics highlighted in the report include but are not limited to: 1) hourly precipitation trends across the Southeast U.S., 2) a Probable Maximum Precipitation (PMP) study for Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, 3) examining extreme rainfall forecast and communication processes, and 4) whether a nationally acclaimed model local hazard mitigation effort fits the standard model of hazard mitigation. Several other research topics are also included, along with new focuses and partnerships. Many of the outlined projects will continue into next year.
SCIPP’s mission is to assist organizations with making decisions that build resilience by collaboratively producing research, tools, and knowledge that reduce weather and climate risks and impacts across the South Central United States.