Opinion: Making Climate Data Actionable for Connecticut Communities
The following opinion article was first published in the Hearst Connecticut Media newspapers. It is reposted here with the permission of the authors.
America’s state and municipal leaders are gazing into the future, only to see climate change materialize as a real, catastrophic risk to infrastructure.
One in three Americans say they have been personally affected by an extreme weather event in the past two years.
And 90% of U.S. counties have experienced at least one federal declaration of a climate disaster in the last decade.
It is no different in Connecticut, where extreme heat, flooding, intense storms, sea-level rise, and more, continue to affect communities, businesses, and families alike.
Municipalities across the state face the challenge of protecting their people against dangerous climate impacts.
Driving Effective Solutions
Connecticut benefits from having proactive leaders. Last year, Gov. Ned Lamont signed significant climate change and energy legislation into law that, among other things, looks to reduce emissions in the transportation sector and improve air quality.
At the time, Lamont said Connecticut was “setting an example for what a state can do to become more environmentally sustainable.”
But the climate change variable challenges more than just government entities, requiring public/private collaboration and resource-sharing to drive innovative and effective solutions.
The task ahead is to help leaders strengthen and upgrade their critical infrastructure—including the roads and bridges we take to work, the schools where our kids learn, and the pipes that carry our water.
To build durable infrastructure, communities first need to know exactly what climate challenges they’re up against.
As part of AT&T’s work to address climate change, we teamed up with the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory to develop the Climate Risk and Resilience Portal, or ClimRR.
ClimRR serves as a free, publicly accessible portal, providing localized data projections.
The tool can empower policymakers, city planners, emergency managers and community leaders to better understand future climate threats, examine infrastructure vulnerabilities, fortify critical facilities and develop adaptation plans.
ClimRR’s interactive maps allow users to see projected local climate conditions 30 years into the future, which is crucial for long-range planning and preparing each community for their “new normal.”
For example, if a city’s annual rainfall is projected to significantly increase, leaders can help mitigate impacts by upgrading storm drain systems and flood control plans.
Even more critical for equity considerations, the tool identifies areas where climate hazards are posing risk to specific populations, enabling municipalities to better protect vulnerable residents.
Use case examples could include extreme heat analysis layered with community data, enabling equitable plans for cooling centers and community center hours; seasonal businesses making changes to their operating seasons; coastal cities anticipating flooding and sea-level rise’s impact on transportation and building projects; and much more.
For Connecticut, ClimRR data shows significant effects of climate change, including specific impacts on Hartford where temperatures are warming across all seasons.
Summer average daily highs in Hartford are projected to increase nearly five degrees by midcentury. The city’s total annual precipitation is projected to increase more than 10 inches by midcentury while the number of consecutive days without precipitation will decrease.
This indicates rain could be more frequent and lead to flooding if the ground becomes saturated.
AT&T assesses climate factors in its own operations. Risks like flooding, wildfire, drought and wind are integrated into network resilience efforts and infrastructure planning processes.
We have accumulated years of experience interpreting the data, which has helped inform the creation of ClimRR to ensure the climate projections are actionable for local communities.
ClimRR is one piece of a larger puzzle, and we encourage Connecticut’s state and municipal leaders to check it out, share stories of its use, and participate in one of our upcoming virtual training sessions.
Today’s world is interdependent, and resilience can’t be built in a vacuum. From businesses to local leaders to government officials, all of us must work together to discover new strategies and reshape what it means to be resilient.
It’s our hope that all these tools will drive candid conversations about vulnerabilities within our communities.
Providing an eye into the future, we can shore up our defenses and build more resilient cities so when the next extreme weather event comes, we’ll be ready.
About the authors: John Emra is president of AT&T’s Atlantic Region. Jessica Filante Farrington is an AT&T director of citizenship and sustainability.
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