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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 #20, Winter 2010

In this Issue

  1. Climate Outlook
  2. Pacific Northwest Streamflow Forecast Update
  3. Study on Managing PNW Dam Operations under a Changing Climate
  4. Past Decade Warmest on Record
  5. Coastal Waters Higher than Anticipated this Winter
  6. CASES Adaptation Case Study Database Released
  7. Assessing Climate Change Impacts on the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community
  8. Update on Washington State Adaptation Efforts
  9. California Releases Climate Adaptation Strategy
  10. Recent CIG Publications
  11. CIG in the News

1. Pacific Northwest Climate Outlook

The 7 January NOAA El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) diagnostic discussion expects the current El Niño to continue through Northern Hemisphere spring 2010, increasing the odds for continued warmer than normal conditions in the Pacific Northwest. Read more on the outlook for the Pacific Northwest...

2. Pacific Northwest Streamflow Forecast Updates

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

Fall and winter seasonal streamflows in the PNW have been variable due to the influence of particular precipitation events. Above normal precipitation in October over the Columbia River Basin resulted in an extended period of soil moisture replenishment, preventing the below-normal streamflows expected at the Dalles station for the fall and winter. Above normal soil moisture conditions were also found in the Snake River Basin in fall 2009 but conditions dropped to slightly below normal as winter precipitation decreased. The shift towards warmer and drier winter conditions is consistent with warm ENSO (El Niño) episodes in the PNW.

Different climate forecasts, including NOAA and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), indicate the persistence of a warm ENSO episode through spring 2010. As a result, the UW West-wide Seasonal Hydrological Forecast System is projecting below normal streamflows for the next six months. These lower streamflows arise from slightly lower-than-normal soil moisture (SM) and snow water equivalent (SWE) percentiles in a majority of the PNW. These prevailing SM and SWE conditions trigger the below normal forecasted streamflow for practically the entire Snake River Basin. Streamflows forecasted for this basin indicate a 10 to 13% drop below normal. Likewise, forecasts for nearly 40% of the stations on the Columbia River Basin point to 10 to 13% subnormal streamflows, including forecasts for the Dalles (12% below normal). However, streamflows for the remainder of stations forecasted in the Columbia River Basin are only 2-7% below normal, still within the range of normal conditions. Stations forecasted to remain within the normal range include those located in the upper Columbia River Basin (in British Columbia), and in the Yakima, Naches, Klickitat, Cowlitz, Grays-Elochoman Rivers.

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. Study on Managing PNW Dam Operations under a Changing Climate

Projected shifts in the timing and magnitude of streamflows under a warmer future climate may require revision of dam operations in the Pacific Northwest. To better understand the implications of shifting streamflow patterns for hydropower production and flood control, researchers from the CIG, the UW Civil Engineering Department, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted a study demonstrating how dam operations in the Columbia basin could be altered to adjust to changing streamflow conditions.

The researchers developed a new technique to determine when to empty reservoirs in the winter for flood control and when to refill them in the spring to provide storage for the coming year. Computer simulations suggest that water managers could successfully deal with warmer conditions by refilling the system's reservoirs as much as one month earlier in the spring, lessening summer losses in hydropower due to climate change. Earlier refill would also bolster flows for fish by filling reservoirs more reliably and reduce the risk of flooding. For more information on the study, see:

4. Past Decade Warmest on Record

The first decade of the 21st century (2000-2009) is the warmest decade on record when compared with 20th century average global surface temperature, according to The National Climatic Data Center’s (NCDC) State of the Climate report for 2009. Additional statistics on the 2009 climate year include the following:

Separating global land and ocean temperatures:

These patterns follow the trend of global surface temperature warming over the past century, at a rate of nearly 0.6°C/decade (0.11°F/decade), but with an increasing rate over the last 30 years, 0.16°C/decade (0.29°F/decade).

5. Coastal Waters Higher than Anticipated this Winter

Observations of sea levels along the Puget Sound (Tacoma, Seattle and Friday Harbor) and at Neah Bay have exceeded predicted levels by 0.6 m (2 ft) during the interval of January 18th to 23rd. Furthermore, Pacific coastal water levels have ranged from 0.3-0.6m (1 to 2 ft) above expected as far south as San Diego.

This phenomenon is attributed to prevailing low pressure systems, or “inverse barometer effect”, which reduces the atmospheric “weight” on coastal waters, and the confluence of surface waters driven shoreward by continuous southerly winds. These two combined factors are prevalent in the winter months along the west coast and can contribute an additional 0.1 – 0.5 m (0.3 - 1.7 ft) to sea levels. Strong El Niño years often exacerbate these effects on winter sea levels, raising them an additional 0.3 m (1 ft). Additional above normal high tides are likely this winter as the current El Niño peaks and begins to wind down.

For more information:

6. CASES Adaptation Case Study Database Released

Adapting to climate change can be a daunting task for state and local governments. Who is working on adapting to climate change? How are they conducting their planning process? On which areas are they focusing their adaptation planning efforts?

Answers to these and other important questions can provide a valuable starting point for state and local adaptation planning efforts. More specifically, understanding how state and local governments are approaching the task of adapting to climate change is helpful for:

Knowing which state and local governments are working on climate change adaptation and where to find information on their efforts can be challenging, however. 

To help address this challenge and support state and local adaptation planning, the Climate Impacts Group (CIG) at the University of Washington has developed the CASES (Climate Adaptation caSE Studies) database. CASES is a user-driven, searchable database providing basic information on state and local adaptation planning efforts. Users can query the database using any combination of search options, including location, population size, impact concerns, and adaptation activities. Each case study report provides a synopsis of the planning effort, relevant links to program websites and documentation, and (typically) community contacts to support peer-to-peer networking.

Current case studies include Seattle, WA; the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, WA; Phoenix, AZ; the Jemez Mountains region, NM; Fairbanks, AK; Elkford and Kimberley, British Columbia (Canada); and the state of Baja California (Mexico). The number of case studies in the database is expected to grow over time as more case studies are entered into the database and, simultaneously, as more communities engage in adaptation planning. Cross-collaborations with other organizations tracking adaptation efforts and developing case studies are also planned and will add to the database. 

In addition to the database, the CASES site includes an adaptation library for general interest documents relevant to adaptation planning. The CASES Adaptation Library provides links to a variety of reports, studies, and other general information on adaptation planning that are not specific to any one community. As with the case study database, the CASES library is expected to grow over time.

7. Assessing Climate Change Impacts on the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, located in north Puget Sound near the town of La Conner, has released a technical assessment (pdf) of climate change impacts on the tribal community and reservation lands. Among the impacts, this comprehensive report highlights the vulnerability of low-lying areas, beaches, and shorelines to inundation from rising sea levels; heightened risk of wildfires for upland forested areas of the Reservation; threats to the sustainability of shellfish beds; and increased susceptibility to heat-related illness, particularly for the ill and elderly.

The Swinomish Impact Assessment Technical Report represents completion of the first phase of a two year program that will result in development of a climate change adaptation plan for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. In addition to addressing specific impacts identified in the technical assessment, the adaptation plan (due September 2010) will take into consideration the overlapping interests of neighboring jurisdictions and outline the potential for collaboration. It will also summarize the capacity and possible funding options for implementation. Finally, the report will serve as a model for other tribes intending to develop similar climate change adaptation plans. The CIG is serving as technical consultants for the Swinomish Climate Change Initiative in partnership with the Swinomish Office of Planning and Community Development and the Skagit River System Cooperative.

For more information, including the Technical Report, visit the Swinomish Climate Change Initiative website.

8. Update on Washington State Adaptation Efforts

In the spring of 2009, Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire signed Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5560 (E2SSB), which mandates a multi-agency response strategy to prepare for the projected impacts of climate change.

As part of the initial phases of this process, the cities of Lacey and Wenatchee hosted forums in December 2009 inviting Washington residents to voice their concerns about impacts of climate change on the state and make suggestions for developing a state-wide strategy for adapting to climate change. The forums were organized by the Washington Department of Ecology. Collaborating state agencies (Agriculture; Community, Trade, and Economic Development; Fish and Wildlife; Natural Resources; and Transportation) were also in attendance.  

Scientists from the CIG attended both meetings to present the results of the recently completed Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment. For more information on the meetings, see: 

9. California Releases Climate Adaptation Strategy

In December of 2009, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the completion of California’s Climate Adaptation Strategy (CAS) report (Executive Summary | Full report). The report is the first statewide effort to address the impacts of climate change on key sectors of California’s environment and economy, including public health, biodiversity and habitat, ocean and coastal resources, water management, agriculture, forestry, transportation, and energy infrastructure. The report highlights the latest science related to projections of climate change impacts and provides twelve preliminary recommendations for adapting to climate change. These recommendations include (but are not limited to) the following:

Two recommendations in the report have already been implemented. First, a Climate Adaptation Advisory Panel has been established to assess climate change risks and recommend strategies for reducing those risks. The Advisory Panel will begin with addressing threats associated with extended wildfire season and occurrence, sea level rise, and declining snowpack in the Sierras. Second, the state has implemented a new Google Earth tool, Cal-Adapt. The Cal-Adapt tool provides communities with spatial and temporal depictions of climate change impacts, including snowpack projections, sea level rise and wildfire risk.

For more information on California's adaptation efforts, or to download a PDF copy of the strategy, visit the California climate change portal.

10. 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:

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Additional news items are available at CIG in the News.

Posted February 8, 2010