S144 Assessing the Vulnerability of the Northern Great Plains to a Severe Snowstorm/Blizzard

Sunday, 6 January 2013
Exhibit Hall 3 (Austin Convention Center)
Keeley S. Heise, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK

Winters in the northern Great Plains are known for being cold and snowy. Accounts of severe snowstorms and blizzards can be found throughout the history of this region, particularly in the late 1800s, and these storms have a great impact on the local people. Large snowstorms today still have a significant impact as there are more people and higher values of property in the paths. As the climate continues to change and the risk of extreme events increases, snowstorms could occur more often or be more severe than they were in the past. If this were to occur, the affect on the population of the northern Great Plains could be substantial. This research uses geographic information system techniques to conduct a hazard identification to determine the parts of the northern Great Plains that are most at risk to experience a severe snowstorm or blizzard as well as a social vulnerability analysis to determine which areas are the most vulnerable based on various demographics such as education level, income, and gender. The hazard identification process includes identifying the two worst snowstorms for each winter season from 1950/51 through 2009/10. The storms are chosen based on variables such as duration, areal extent and amount of snowfall. Pressure, wind speed and snow depth data are used to track the path and areal extent of each of the 120 storms chosen. Social demographics from the 2010 Census are used at the county level, converted to a standardized variable, and inputted into an additive social vulnerability model to determine the overall vulnerability score. The final vulnerability scores are mapped using geographic information system overlays. The areas of highest social vulnerability and highest hazard risk are compared to see if those most at risk to the hazard are also those most socially vulnerable.
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