13th Conference on Applied Climatology and the 10th Conference on Aviation, Range, and Aerospace Meteorology

Wednesday, 15 May 2002: 3:15 PM
The State Climatologist Program and a National Climate Services Initiative
Mark A. Shafer, Oklahoma Climatological Survey, Norman, OK
Poster PDF (33.9 kB)
Recent advances in technology and the gradual accumulation of knowledge have provided tremendous opportunities to lessen the impacts of natural hazards. But technology and knowledge are not solutions in themselves - it is their application that mitigates loss. It is not necessarily that we need more knowledge; we need to apply what is already known.

There have been several initiatives in recent years addressing natural hazard threats and climate services. Most focus upon the national area - national threats with national solutions. But knowledge is most effective when tailored to particular circumstances. This requires placing information in the context of local hazards. Policies are only as effective as their implementation. Therefore, consideration must be given to how national proposals will be put into practice at the local level.

Climate modeling and seasonal outlooks have improved, providing new opportunities to address evolving issues of concern. Computer technology has enabled state offices to tap resources that once required a tremendous investment in infrastructure. In addition to the increased capabilities of the states to provide services, the political landscape has shifted. Terms like "devolution" and "new federalism" highlight the increasingly important role states are taking in a number of issue areas. There is a growing recognition that each arena of government has certain functions for which it is best suited, resulting in a "sorting out" of responsibilities. Other program areas, such as health and human services, provide a testament to the ability of local governments to provide services tailored to local clientele.

Despite the formal arrangements and new opportunities, State Climatologists remain constrained in the resources they can bring to bear on climate services and issues. Most offices are small, typically consisting of a part-time Director and maybe one or two additional staff members (who may be University students). Because of this, most offices wait until individuals contact them for assistance. This may occur after weather or climate has adversely affected a region in the state. With such limited resources, it is very difficult for State Climatologists to reach other audiences, particularly those who are not aware of the services available to them, and those who could benefit from the services but aren't even aware of the risks they face from weather and climate events. Demand for climate information is growing by leaps and bounds, and even the increased capabilities of the state offices are insufficient to meet these demands.

The Oklahoma Climatological Survey (OCS) offers an example of effectively focusing information on targeted clienteles. Instead of waiting for people to come to them, OCS is leveraging state and federal resources to collect more detailed information and provide it in a meaningful way to those at-risk from adverse weather or climate. Efforts include outreach programs to education, rural electric cooperatives, and emergency managers, the latter of which was selected by Harvard University in 2001 as a winner of its Innovations in American Government awards. OCS also works directly with state agencies and decision-makers, supplying information ranging from real-time assessment of fire danger conditions to longer-term monitoring of emerging drought and soil moisture changes. By finding unique ways of funding the infrastructure, OCS is able to reach out to these critical groups, offering not just data, but tailored information and training to assure effective utilization of the information.

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