5A.3 The Role of a State Climate Office in State and Local Hazard Mitigation Planning

Tuesday, 27 June 2017: 9:00 AM
Mt. Mitchell (Crowne Plaza Tennis and Golf Resort)
David A. Robinson, Rutgers Univ., Piscataway, NJ; and M. R. Gerbush

State climate offices (SCOs) are called upon for their expertise on a wealth of climate-related issues as they serve state and local communities, with the Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist (ONJSC) being no exception. One such requested service to the ONJSC that arises with some regularity involves the development or updating of hazard mitigation plans. This involves utilizing office expertise regarding extreme weather and climate events to generate databases of historical events and at times including consideration of the potential for future hazard events in the context of climate change. This has provided an impetus to generate and utilize observational databases of extreme events such as droughts, hurricanes, nor’easters, heat/cold spells, and severe weather such as tornadoes, hail, high winds, heavy rains, and snowstorms. This involves meticulous vetting of climate data and utilizing observations deemed acceptable for listing extremes in terms of magnitude, duration, frequency, and spatial coverage.

This presentation will discuss a number of such datasets that have been generated by the ONJSC. While relying on the local knowledge of those in the office, it must be noted that such efforts cannot succeed without the availability of data gathered via national programs, such as the National Weather Service’s (NWS) Cooperative Observer Program and records gathered at NWS first-order stations, and in recent years from the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network.

Case studies are also developed for some mitigation plans in order to demonstrate not only the wide variety of extremes experienced within New Jersey but also the differences that occur between various regions of the state as one particular event may unfold. For instance, a January 2016 blizzard included record snowfalls under extremely windy conditions in parts of the state while the south coastal region experienced flooding that exceeded that observed during Hurricane Sandy. When looking toward future occurrences, issues that are addressed include the potential effects of long-term changes in weather or climate patterns on the identified hazards and probabilities of such events compared to those of the past. Thermal extremes, storm frequency and strength (tropical or winter storms), excessive precipitation events, drought, and other types of severe weather are among the types of events evaluated.

The data and information generated in the hazard mitigation planning process are valued by decision makers in a wide variety of sectors, including agricultural, hydrological, insurance, and, of course, emergency management. At times they help inform those involved with planning for an impending event, are of value during the event itself, and useful throughout recovery efforts. This may involve placing a particular hazardous event in climatological context, be it the amount of rain that is quickly accumulating or the strength of gusting winds. Or it could be providing context to the magnitude of snow that has fallen compared with previous events while applying for federal aid for snow removal. These activities within the ONJSC, like those of other SCOs throughout the nation, provide critical data, products, and expertise as locals provide climate services to locals to address important climate-related issues.

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