Outreach, Classes, and Seminars

The Pacific Northwest Climate CIGnal

The Climate Impacts Group (CIG) issues a quarterly electronic newsletter designed to provide updates on regional climate and climate-related research, meetings, and topics of interest to Pacific Northwest (PNW) decision makers and resource managers. The first newsletter was distributed in January 2005.

To subscribe to the newsletter, please visit the CIG's "climateupdate" list serve home page. You can also subscribe to the newsletter by sending a blank email to the following address: climateupdate-subscribe@mailman.u.washington.edu.

The Pacific Northwest Climate CIGnal

Issue #19, Fall 2009

In this Issue

  1. Pacific Northwest Climate Outlook
  2. Pacific Northwest Streamflow Forecast Update
  3. Centers for Disease Control awards grant to study climate change impacts on public health in PNW
  4. Columbia Basin Climate Change Scenarios Project releases datasets in November
  5. Communities Adapting to Climate Change in British Columbia
  6. Department of Interior Secretarial Order applied in PNW
  7. Recent and Upcoming meetings
  8. Recent CIG Publications
  9. CIG in the News

1. Pacific Northwest Climate Outlook

The NOAA El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Alert System status is that of an "El Niño advisory" of weak El Niño conditions in the tropical Pacific that are expected to develop into a moderate strength El Niño through the Winter. The impacts of this warm ENSO on Oregon, Washington, and Idaho are expected to be seen this Fall and Winter.


2. Pacific Northwest Streamflow Forecast Updates

West-wide Seasonal Hydrologic Forecasts Update (Columbia R., Snake R., and other western-U.S. rivers)

In general this summer, below normal soil moisture conditions have characterized most of the PNW, except some areas in the southeastern portion, which were recharged by summer (and early fall) precipitation. With the onset of the fall season, precipitation events occurred in the western PNW, including the lower Columbia River Basin, increasing soil moisture levels for most of this region. This broadening of precipitation occurrence was observed from the end of September to the present. In summary, the soil moisture deficits in the western PNW shifted to normal or above normal conditions during this period, whereas the southeastern region consistently maintained values above normal. Given the expected drier-than-normal conditions due to the warm ENSO forecast for the winter, these recent changes in soil moisture may offset the dry winter season.

During the water year 2009 the streamflows for the Snake River basin were below normal for over 80% of the stations included in the forecasts. Conversely, the 2010 forecast shows closer to normal conditions. The streamflow forecast is an average of 40 ensemble forecasts that use the current conditions to perturb the past 40 years of observations. It is noteworthy that the forecast made using the 5th of October conditions indicated streamflows near or below normal due to the dry summer months. However, the late summer/early fall precipitation necessitated an update using conditions for the 25th of October to generate a forecast for the following six months. This update points to streamflows 10% above normal for the Snake River basin. Forecasted streamflows for the water year 2010 for western stations in the lower Columbia River Basin are similar to the previous year’s forecast, with values around normal. The near normal streamflows forecasted for the western stations are attributable to the shift to wetter conditions that occurred during the past few weeks.

Finally, since warm ENSO conditions are currently developing, forecasts were generated by selecting for years that match similar warm-ENSO conditions. Under warm ENSO conditions, streamflow forecasts for the Columbia River Basin, as well as for the Snake River Basin, are likely to be below normal. Although, the initial wet conditions characterizing the end of summer and onset of fall may recharge the water storage in these basins, possibly mitigating below-normal streamflows forecasted later this winter.

About the Forecasts. Graphical depictions of recent estimates of soil moisture, snow water equivalent, and streamflow can be found at the University of Washington's West-wide Seasonal Hydrologic Forecast System web site. These experimental real-time forecasts are updated twice monthly (1st and the 15th) and are based on several climate forecast methods. A number of products at the web-site are also updated on a daily basis. These include basin-averaged water balance conditions for each forecast point, spatial maps of current conditions, and a spatial summary of snow water equivalent for the western U.S.

A related effort that offers daily updates of hydrologic conditions throughout the U.S., can be found on the UW Experimental Surface Water Monitor web site. The Surface Water Monitor shows daily updating estimates of hydrologic conditions throughout the U.S. The site also offers weekly projections for soil moisture and runoff across the U.S. for lead times up to 3 months.

3. Centers for Disease Control awards grant to study climate change impacts on public health in PNW

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded researchers at the University of Washington almost one million dollars over the next three years to determine the impacts of climate change on public health in the Pacific Northwest. How climate change will influence people’s long-term health varies among communities across the country, and thus far, the responses of public health officials addressing these concerns have left many questions unanswered. One key concern is how to prepare for impacts that remain unclear.

The research team, composed of scientists from the Climate Impacts Group and faculty from the School of Public Health, will work with local communities to investigate the probable health risks to arise in the next 35 years and the ways to mitigate those risks. Specifically, the study will focus on the principle health concerns likely to emerge in this region triggered by climate change: heat-related illnesses and declining air quality.

The human health sector in the 2009 Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment forecasted a rise in mortality rates associated with more frequent and intense heat waves and increased air pollution in the future. The urban centers with relatively mild summers historically, less air conditioning capacity and higher population densities are anticipated to endure the largest impacts. The results from these and forthcoming studies will provide the scientific foundation allowing communities to include climate change impacts in their public health policies.

4. Columbia Basin Climate Change Scenarios Project releases datasets in November

The Columbia Basin Climate Change Scenarios Project (CBCCSP) is a two-year collaborative venture between the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group and five regional study partners. Primary funding for the project was provided by the Washington State Department of Ecology via Washington State House Bill 2860 (HB2860). Supplemental funding was provided by four additional regional study partners: the Bonneville Power Administration, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, Oregon Water Resources Department and British Columbia Ministry of the Environment.

The primary objective of this collaborative endeavor is to produce a set of comprehensive, up-to-date hydrologic climate change scenarios for the Columbia River basin in support of 21st century water planning throughout the Pacific Northwest. The project applies a macro-scale hydrologic model over the entire Columbia River basin and coastal drainages to produce a wide range of hydrologic products and databases for 297 river locations, ranging from smaller sub-basins of the Columbia basin (e.g. the Yakima and Okanogan rivers) to larger scales supporting basin-wide studies for the Columbia mainstem.

Among the products included in the hydrologic databases are projected future precipitation, temperature, snowpack, evapotranspiration, crop evaporative demand, soil moisture, streamflow, and flood and low flow statistics. The hydrologic products from the study will be made publicly available in November of 2009 in a format useful to water managers, planners, and researchers. The data will support many kinds of long-range planning efforts including those associated with salmon recovery, stream restoration, forest management, water supply, irrigation, flood control and hydropower production.

5. Communities Adapting to Climate Change in British Columbia

The Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) in British Columbia galvanized the effort for communities to adapt to climate change with the Communities Adapting to Climate Change (CACC) initiative. The CIG served on the advisory board for the CACC initiative. In acknowledgement of the necessity for communities to identify the local susceptibilities to climate change impacts and to construct adaptation plans, the CBT chose two pilot communities to participate in the CACC initiative: the District of Elkford and the City of Kimberley.

The Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC), in partnership with the CIG, implemented hydrologic and climate models over the Columbia River Basin to provide the communities with climate and streamflow projections in the future. The CACC team at the District of Elkford used input from scientists and the community to identify three priority sectors at risk: wildfire, flooding and water supply. The CACC scientists determined the vulnerability of each sector to climate change impacts by analyzing the projections provided by PCIC. For example, by applying streamflow projections under conditions of earlier snowmelt, increased glacial melt and rainier winters, researchers assessed the risk of flooding in the sewage lagoon and domestic water supply wellheads.

The City of Kimberley, likewise, identified three local sectors at risk through a review of current climate science, local observations and a community survey: water and forests (natural environment), municipal infrastructure (built environment) and tourism (socioeconomic environment). Working groups for each sector applied the potential impacts of climate change to identify the vulnerabilities within their respective sector. Examples include the implications that streamflow projections for this community would have on municipal water supplies (natural environment), on urban trees (built environment) and on ski tourism (socioeconomic environment). From these vulnerability assessments, both communities created adaptation plans to address the potential impacts and increase their resilience to climate change.

6. Department of Interior Secretarial Order applied in PNW

On March 11th of this year the Department of the Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, issued Secretarial Order No. 3285 giving precedence to the production and transmission of renewable energy on public lands. The Order prioritizes the effort to enhance scientific understanding of climate change and to build tools in response to its impacts on the natural and cultural resources that the Department oversees. For the first time, the Department will manage the public lands of America as environmental stewards, promoting renewable energy development, rather than oil, natural gas and coal development.

The Department is also taking the reins on protecting the country’s water, land, fish and wildlife, cultural and tribal lands from the current and forthcoming impacts of climate change. As part of this endeavor, the Order outlines the Water Conservation Initiative (WCI) and a plan to create Land Conservation Cooperatives (LCC). Under the Water Conservation Initiative, the Department recognizes the hydrologic challenges confronting the Western states in the face of a changing climate, including greater demand on the diminishing resource for irrigation and hydropower, and shifts in rainfall and snowpack accumulation patterns.

The Bureau of Reclamation seized this opportunity to secure funds for a new Basin Study Program to determine the options available to water managers in three Western river basins where climate change is expected to have a high impact. The three study basins and their focal points include the following:

The Order’s implementation of Land Conservation Cooperatives recognizes that the impacts of climate change are broad and do not follow political boundaries. The LCCs will allow managers to respond to climate change impacts on a landscape level. For example, the cooperatives will collaborate regionally to address impacts to migration routes, wildlife corridors, wildfire risk and the spread of invasive species. In the Pacific region, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will manage four LCCs: the Great Northern LCC (northern Rockies and most of the Columbia Basin region), the North Pacific LCC (northern California to Alaska, including west of the Cascades), the Great Basin (southern Idaho, southeast Oregon, Nevada, western Utah), and the Pacific Islands LCC. The Fish and Wildlife’s Climate Change Strategic Plan and Action Plan for Climate Change have been released for public comment.

7. Recent and Upcoming Meetings

8. Recent CIG Publications

Recent CIG publications include the following:

For copies of these papers, please contact the CIG. A complete listing of CIG publications is available on the CSES publications page.

12. CIG in the News

Recent media stories featuring CIG research and/or researchers include the following:

Additional news items are available at CIG in the News.

Posted October 30, 2009