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" listserve 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 #6, Spring 2006

In this Issue

  1. Pacific Northwest climate outlook
  2. Pacific Northwest streamflow forecast updates
  3. Assessing the economic impacts of climate change in Washington State
  4. Activities with the Federal water management agencies
  5. CIG research on snowpack trends featured in Time Magazine
  6. CIG in the news: Recent media stories

1. Pacific Northwest climate outlook

Seasonal outlooks for spring and summer suggest a tilt in the odds toward warmer, drier conditions for most of the Northwest. With the disappearance of quasi-La Niña conditions, the likelihood of above-average precipitation dropped. Read more about the outlook...

2. Pacific Northwest streamflow forecast updates

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

Since the winter installment of this newsletter, the April-September streamflow outlook for the Columbia and Snake River basins has improved moderately. The Columbia River is now projected to be 5-10% above average, mainly as a result of wetter and slightly colder than average conditions in the southern and eastern portions of the Snake River basin. The Snake River is projected to be about 25% above average.

In California, heavy and late-melting snowpacks are slated to produce much above average summer flows in rivers heading in the Sierras and northern California. In most of the Colorado River basin, unexpectedly dry conditions during the last month have reduced streamflow outlooks significantly, and flows are now projected to be moderately to well below normal (particularly in the southeastern portion of the basin).

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 website. These experimental real-time forecasts are updated monthly and are based on several climate forecast methods. A related effort, showing daily updates of hydrologic conditions throughout the U.S., can be found on the UW Experimental Surface Water Monitor website.

Puget Sound Regional Water Supply Forecast Update (Sultan, S. Fork Tolt, Cedar, Green, and White Rivers)

The May update of the Puget Sound Regional Water Supply Forecast is not available at this time. We hope to be able to provide this forecast again in the near future. Information on the most recent forecast report (April 2006) is available on the Puget Sound Mid-Range Forecasts home page.

3. Assessing the economic impacts of climate change in Washington State

The CIG is lending technical assistance to Washington State 's first assessment of the economic impacts of climate change. The assessment, a component of Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire's December 2005 energy policy, will quantify the economic impacts of present day shifts in temperature and precipitation as well as the likely impacts of climate change. The report is intended to help state policymakers, business, and civic leaders understand the risks that climate change poses for Washington 's $270 billion economy. It also seeks to identify priority areas for policy development and future research. The assessment is being coordinated by The Climate Leadership Initiative at the University of Oregon.

Dr. Amy Snover, CIG researcher, is serving as the science adviser to the assessment's Steering Committee, director, and project staff. The CIG was also involved in scoping the project and is providing resources and general guidance to the staff and committee.

Progress to date includes the completion of a literature review; a meeting of the steering committee and a symposium that gathered the steering committee, stakeholders, and a panel of experts. The literature review provided a starting point for the panel of experts and consists of existing research and publications on the economic consequences of climate change in Washington. The May 4, 2006, Symposium on the Economic Consequences of Climate Change formally launched the assessment and included presentations on the areas in which scientific consensus has been reached surrounding the effects of climate change in Washington, as well as a discussion of priority issues and framing of the report. Several CIG researchers gave presentations on climate change impacts at the May 4th symposium.

The final report should be available by late fall 2006. To view the May 4th climate impacts presentations and other information related to the Washington State economic impacts assessment, visit the Climate Leadership Initiative web site. Media coverage of the assessment and the May 4th symposium is available here.

4. Activities with the Federal Water Management Agencies

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) play a major role in adapting water systems and water-related infrastructure throughout the West to the impacts of climate change. The following summarizes recent activities between the CIG, the USACE, and the USBR.

Briefing to the International Joint Commission (IJC)

Researchers from the CIG and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's (USACE) Pacific Northwest District Office briefed members of the International Joint Commission (IJC) on April 4, 2006, about the transboundary implications of climate change on management of the Columbia River system. The IJC is an independent, binational organization established in 1909 to help present and resolve disputes relating to the use and quality of transboundary waters between the U.S. and Canada.

Understanding how climate change will affect water management in the Columbia system is important given the projected effects of climate change on snowpack and timing of spring runoff in the U.S. portion of the basin. While only 30% of the Columbia River Basin is located in Canada, 50% (on average) of the Columbia's natural late summer streamflow originates in Canada. Meeting system objectives for hydropower, instream flows, flood control and other uses in a changing climate is likely to affect existing international treaty agreements governing water transfers from the Canadian portion of the basin into the U.S.

The CIG and the USACE look forward to more opportunities to work with the IJC on climate change. For more information on climate change impacts on U.S./Canada transboundary water management in the Columbia, see Hamlet 2003.

CIG/Army Corps Pilot Study on Climate Change Impacts

The CIG and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's (USACE) Pacific Northwest District Office are working on a pilot study examining climate change impacts on USACE programs. The study, which is currently focused on the Pacific Northwest, will draw on a technical review of USACE missions in the region and interviews with planners, operational practitioners, and managers in Pacific Northwest USACE district offices to:

In doing so, the CIG and the USACE will identify procedures for incorporating climate information into USACE planning and management activities, and develop guidelines for estimating climate-related uncertainties in current planning processes. Phase I of the project is underway (identifying vulnerable missions and conducting interviews). A foundation report summarizing these findings should be complete by the end of 2006. Additional details on the work will be provided in future issues of the PNW Climate CIGnal.

Yakima River Basin Water Storage Feasibility Study

The Yakima River Basin Water Storage Feasibility Study was begun in 2003 in response to local concerns about the reliability of water supply for agriculture, threatened and endangered fish, and community water supplies in the Yakima Basin. The study includes evaluating the feasibility of a major new off-stream storage reservoir (Black Rock Reservoir) in the basin.

Climate change is an important consideration for the project given the scope of the study. To that end, the CIG is providing guidance to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) on evaluating the impacts of climate change on the Naches, Yakima, and Upper Columbia River basins. The USBR's assessment will evaluate how changes in mean monthly runoff by mid-21st century will affect water management in the basin. A major focus of the analysis is assessing the probability of occurrence associated with different climate scenarios. Additional details on the work will be provided in future issues of the PNW Climate CIGnal.  

5. CIG research on snowpack trends featured in Time Magazine

Research by CIG researchers Dr. Philip Mote, Alan Hamlet, and Dr. Dennis Lettenmaier was recently featured in Time Magazine's April 3, 2006 special issue on climate change. Dr. Mote, Mr. Hamlet, and Dr. Lettenmaier have examined trends in snowpack throughout the western United States and have found that much of the mountain West has experienced declines in spring snowpack, especially since mid-century, despite increases in winter precipitation in many places. These results are significant given the reliance of Western States on winter snowpack for summer water supplies.

For more information:

6. CIG in the news: Recent media stories

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

Additional news items are available at CIG in the News.