A New Climate Planning Tool for Local Governments
Washington State is experiencing multiple climate impacts from climate change, and these are expected to intensify in the future, including more frequent and severe heat extremes, reduced spring snowpack, sea level rise, higher stream temperatures, and many more. These climate impacts vary in severity and importance depending on your location in the state, making climate resilience efforts by local governments particularly important.
The amount of information on climate impacts ,and how this information can be used, can be overwhelming for those staff in local governments who have been tasked with preparing for and responding to these changes. This is especially the case for local governments that may not have the specialized expertise or resources to identify and use the best climate information for their region.
Climate Mapping for a Resilient Washington
The Climate Impacts Group (CIG) at the University of Washington (UW) has created a publicly available web application to help local jurisdictions navigate the large volume of climate information available for Washington and apply it in their climate resilience planning. The Climate Mapping for a Resilient Washington (CMRW) tool was created in support of Washington State’s efforts to update their state climate risk assessment, and it is integrated into the Washington State Department of Commerce’s work on the state’s climate guidance for comprehensive planning.
Released in December 2022, the CMRW was created with the input from many stakeholders, including local governments and state agencies. It is a compilation and curation of the best existing climate projection information for Washington State and includes information on changes in the following climate hazards:
- Extreme heat
- Extreme precipitation
- Reduced snowpack
- Sea level rise
Expected changes in the climate and climate-related natural hazards are mapped across the state and summaries are available at the county level. Future conditions are provided for across multiple time periods and scenarios through the end of the century. Along with visualizations of changes in the climate and related hazards, CMRW provides important contextual information on the factors that affect exposure and susceptibility to climate hazards at the local level.
What can it be used for?
State and local decision makers can use CMRW to help identify the need for and to prioritize risk-reduction activities and effectively plan for climate resilience. The webtool can inform:
- Climate communications and outreach products;
- Climate vulnerability assessments, resilience plans, and action plans;
- Climate resilience elements of state required plans; and
- Climate considerations for state and federal grant applications.
Indicators Specific to Washington
CMRW is designed to meet the needs of Washingtonians by including projected changes in streamflow, snowpack, extreme precipitation, drought, and wildfire; all hazards that are critical for managing the state's natural resources and protecting residents and communities, but which are not commonly included in national-scale applications. For example, the webtool includes specific climate indicators relevant to drought declarations in Washington, such as the likelihood of snowpack drought.
The CMRW tool offers the following features:
- Climate indicator filters that can pair a specific climate hazard with a specific sector, such as drought and the agricultural sector;
- Customizable and downloadable maps, graphs, and tables of climate change indicators;
- Raster format files, which are available for most maps and useful for GIS applications; and
- Guidance on the type of data and information useful for assessing local variation in vulnerability.
Things to Remember
A community’s overall climate vulnerability can be thought of as the intersection of three contributing factors: climate exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. How climate conditions are projected to change in Washington (i.e., exposure) is only part of the recipe for assessing a community’s climate vulnerability. It’s important to also consider community sensitivity to impacts of climate change and how equipped it is to respond to these impacts (i.e., adaptive capacity).
CMRW provides resources for communities to explore climate exposure. The tool includes suggestions on what to consider in exploring local climate exposure, community sensitivity, and adaptive capacity when assessing climate vulnerability and developing resilience plans. Local governments and communities often have the expertise and knowledge to identify the specific local factors that influence a community’s climate vulnerability.
CMRW provides information on many climate hazards at a high level. For a more in-depth assessment of climate hazards for Washington State, the UW Climate Impacts Group has other tools that are publicly available, including:
MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.