Project to aid cities in planning for extreme weather


Tiffany Lee, August 10, 2016 | View original publication

Project to aid cities in planning for extreme weather

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln research team has earned a grant to help 10 Midwest cities plan for extreme and damaging weather.

The project, led by climatologists Martha Shulski and Natalie Umphlett, is funded by a $200,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Program Office’s Sectoral Applications Research program. It will focus on determining critical precipitation levels for municipal water resource management in cities in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas.

“The time horizon for decision-making at the municipal level is long term,” said Shulski, state climatologist, director of the Nebraska State Climate Office and an associate professor of natural resources. “An understanding of recent historical changes and future weather and climate conditions is critical for informed management decisions and serving the interests of the public.”

The work will build on an Umphlett and Shulski research project that provided city-specific climate projections for planning purposes in Lincoln; Iowa City, Iowa; Columbia, Missouri; and Lawrence, Kansas. The research provided site-specific analysis to fill data gaps that regional reports are unable to provide or are not easily interpreted by city officials.

The new project will use surveys, interviews and a workshop to help communities gauge the use of climate data.

Current partners on the project include Lincoln; Dubuque, Iowa; St. Peters and Springfield, Missouri; and Hays, Kansas. Other partner communities from the lower Missouri River Basin will be selected. Viable partners will have a reporting weather station within 25 miles, 60-plus years of climate data, and established climate-related programs already in place.

“Many cities already have hazard plans in place,” Shulski said. “We want to get an idea of what municipalities are using climate data already. How are they incorporating climate information? At what level are they planning?”

Beginning this fall, project personnel will conduct interviews and two-day workshops with city leaders to identify the thresholds associated with extreme climate event impacts in the water resources sector. Topics will include if city systems can keep up with heavy rainfall events and if the municipalities need to plan for the cost of larger sewer systems to accommodate heavy rainfall events and reduce health risks.

“Extreme events and a change in the frequency of events can prompt a need for a change in the infrastructure of a city,” said Umphlett, interim director of the High Plains Regional Climate Center and associate geoscientist with natural resources. “It also can change how a city plans for public health crises.”

Others aiding in the project include Tarik Abdel-Monem, research specialist with the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center; Zhenghong Tang, associate professor of community and regional panning; and Frank Uhlarik, compliance administrator for Lincoln Public Works and Utilities.

The NOAA grant continues through 2018.

The second year will be dedicated to analyzing the information collected through the workshops and interviews; interpreting and creating climate projections; and creating usable tools for cities to use in their planning. Widely used federal climate datasets will be used for all analyses, standardizing the datasets used by Midwest cities planning to extreme weather events.

The final step will be evaluating the successes and complications of the project. The Bureau of Sociological Research at UNL and project personnel will develop questions, complete surveys and use feedback to shape templates that additional municipalities can use as a guide to planning for climate issues.

Shulski and Umphlett said the goal is to help Midwest cities work together using one data source to create plans and work toward more holistic approaches to handling climate change impacts.

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