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Protection of Life and Property

Climate-Related Flashpoints

In cooperation with NOAA's Office of Global Programs, Michael Glantz convened an Informal Planning Meeting (IPM), held at Columbia University's Earth Institute in New York City on 4-5 April 2002. The participants were drawn from many disciplines and many countries to discuss areas of concern including conflict, water resources, food security, public health and safety, environmental degradation, and political, economic, and cultural stability. The main purpose of the IPM was to assess the possible utility of the concept of "flashpoints" as the last of the early warnings of potential climate-related problems that governments might face before an irreversible change occurs. Glantz formulated a pyramid to demonstrate flashpoints graphically. The base of the pyramid is the natural environment and environmental changes to the land. The next level represents land in transformation from one state to another; which lead to areas at risk. These are regions where human activities or climate change adversely affect the ecosystem. Hotspots are situations where human activities interacting with environmental processes have reached destructive levels. Flashpoints are the point on a continuum where policy- and decision-makers are placed in a critical decision-making mode. The stakes of inaction are high. The concept of flashpoint can be useful to avoid transitioning to the next stage, a firepoint, or irreversible change to the area of concern. Discussions will continue among the participants and disaster response agencies to strengthen capabilities in identifying and averting foreseeable disasters. A report was prepared by Glantz and is available on the project website at

Climate Variability and Uncertainty in Flood Hazard Planning

Floodplain maps for local communities in the U.S. are used to regulate development and plan protective measures. Floodplain boundaries are defined using historical precipitation and streamflow data that include few climatological extremes. The floodplain maps often turn out to be inaccurate when compared to subsequent flood events. One factor contributing to uncertainties in flood risk variables is the uncertainty in local precipitation and runoff information. A study begun in FY02, headed by Mary Downton, with Rebecca Morss, Heidi Cullen, Olga Wilhelmi, and Balaji Rajagopalan (U Colorado), is intended to determine whether analysis of relationships between extreme precipitation and flooding and use of summer precipitation forecasts can reduce uncertainty in runoff estimates for the Front Range region of Colorado. To be useful, the information must be accepted within the regulatory process and tailored to the needs of decision makers, floodplain managers, and technical experts. Thus, a major focus of the project is to understand the structure of flood hazard planning and regulation at federal, state, and local levels, in order to provide operationally useful information for local flood hazard planning and mitigation.

Early Warning Systems

Early Warning MapMichael Glantz received funds from NSF and NCAR in FY02 to convene a workshop on "Lessons from Early Warning Systems." The goal of the workshop will be to identify lessons (do's and don'ts) from the wide range of experiences of those who have worked with or helped to develop early warning systems. Many systems are in operation today to warn the public about impending climate- or weather-related hazards. These lessons and experiences can be used to inform others about how to prepare effective warnings and inform the media and general public about how to interpret such warnings, as well as demonstrate the value of atmospheric science research findings to national needs. This multidisciplinary workshop will be convened in FY03.

Extreme Weather and Climate Events

Many NCAR divisions are involved in research aspects of extreme weather and climate events. These research areas would benefit from a more integrated focus by combining studies of (1) the atmospheric science of extremes (global climate and mesoscale models), (2) the statistical aspects of extremes (further development and application of extreme value theory), and (3) the societal impacts, resilience, and vulnerability to extremes. Work on developing a comprehensive, cross-division extremes initiative began in FY01 (see Weather and Climate Impact Assessment Strategic Initiative under Fundamental Research), with ESIG, RAP, MMM, and CGD scientists expecting to complete major components of the initiative in FY03.

Heat waves are subtle hazards that claim more human lives than any other natural hazard. The rapid growth of urban populations, the urban heat island effect, and a potential increase in the frequency and duration of heat waves due to global climate change raises a series of issues about the health impacts of urban population and the effective means of hazard mitigation. Olga Wilhelmi worked with Robert Harriss and Katie Purvis (ASP) on evaluating the role of geographic information system (GIS) technologies in mitigating heat wave impacts. A paper on this issue was accepted by Natural Hazards Review for publication in FY03. It also addresses social and economic trends that exacerbate human vulnerability in cities, discusses the question of how remote sensing and GIS technologies can enhance understanding, communication, and effectiveness in the prevention of heat wave impacts in urban areas, and presents a conceptual framework for heat wave impacts mitigation. During FY01, SOARS protégé Casey Thornbrugh worked with Harriss, Wilhelmi, Shannon McNeeley, and Asher Ghertner on a heat wave project. A Heat Wave Awareness website was finalized in FY02 at

Global Cities-Global Change Strategic Initiative

It is estimated that more than half of the world's population currently lives in urban areas. This is the first time in human history that more people live in cities than in rural regions. Urban growth will continue to be a driving force in social, economic, environmental, and global change. Headed by Robert Harriss, this multiyear Initiative will (1) examine the interactions of various factors that influence atmospheric gas and particle emissions from cities; (2) propose new modeling and measuring techniques; and (3) examine ways to design and plan sustainable urban environments. In FY02, Harriss convened a forum on Colorado Cities and Regions entitled, "Viewing the Past, Present, and Future from Satellites and the Computer Chip." He also held a two-day workshop on "A Design for a Prototype CitySat, Imaging Regional Urban/Industrial Environmental Footprints." A website for the Initiative is being designed, and initial research is under way.

Improving Quantitative Precipitation Forecasts (QPFs)

Although improving QPFs has been identified by a number of meteorological organizations (including NCAR's MMM Division, the US Weather Research Program, and the National Weather Service) as a near-term priority, different types of improvements are likely to lead to different benefits, as well as require different research and operational efforts. Rebecca Morss has recently begun an in-depth, comprehensive assessment of users' needs for warm-season QPFs along the Colorado Front Range. The assessment includes gathering and synthesizing existing information about current and potential forecast use, interviews, and surveys. These interviews and surveys will be conducted in collaboration with Eve Gruntfest (U Colorado-Colorado Springs). This assessment is being conducted in part in conjunction with a USWRP-funded project to develop object-oriented methods for evaluating QPF relevance to users. Collaborators on the verification project include Barb Brown (RAP), Chris Davis (MMM/RAP), Kevin Manning (MMM), Cindy Mueller (RAP), and Randy Bullock (RAP).

Methods for Assessing Economic Value of Weather and Climate Forecasts

Agricultural FieldThe goal of this research has been to evaluate methodology for quantifying the economic value of imperfect weather and climate forecasts. In this regard, ESIG has contributed to the planning of an international research program (i.e., design of appropriate measures of value of potential improvements in weather forecasts as a consequence of The Hemispheric Observing System Research and Predictability Experiment [THORPEX]). THORPEX is a ten-year international research program that will examine predictability and observing systems issues and establish the potential to produce significant improvements in forecasts of high-impact weather. Rebecca Morss and Lenny Smith (U Oxford) are co-chairs of the THORPEX sub-program on "Societal and Economic Impact Assessment" (SEIA). Morss is also continuing to participate in the national and international planning process for THORPEX. In FY02, she worked with the co-chairs of the THORPEX International Science Steering Committee (Mel Shapiro, NOAA/NCAR, and Alan Thorpe, U Reading, UK) on an initial contribution to the THORPEX overview discussing the research and information needed to reach THORPEX's SEIA-related goals. These goals include: assessing high-impact weather forecasts, estimating the marginal value of THORPEX-related forecast improvements, and integrating information in a comparison of costs and benefits of different observing and numerical weather prediction system modifications. Morss began writing the SEIA contribution to the THORPEX International Science Plan, to be completed in FY03. Additionally, Richard Katz continues to maintain a website that categorizes recent case studies of the value of weather and climate forecasts at

Weather Information Needs of Decisionmakers

Jeremy Hackney worked with Robert Harriss, Bob Gall (MMM), and Rebecca Morss to develop a strategy for the societal impacts research plan in the US Weather Research Program (USWRP). This approach will structure projects based on the information needs of formal decisionmakers in industrial and commercial economic sectors. These areas will be chosen for their high societal impact and potential for improved decisions, given better weather information. As a demonstration of the strategy, Hackney organized a workshop under the USWRP during FY02 (held at the beginning of FY03) to bring decisionmakers from the electric power industry in the United States and Canada together with meteorologists. The workshop goal was to improve the value of weather forecasts by integrating the needs of the users with activities in meteorological research and operations, to guide tailored forecasts, new reporting conventions, and other weather forecast services. Additionally, Morss continued work with Roger Pielke Jr. (U Colorado) on developing a framework for understanding and investigating the connections among meteorological observations, weather forecasts, and society. Based on this research, they are currently writing a paper to be submitted in FY03.

Wildland Fire Collaboratory Strategic Initiative

Forest FireThe Wildland Fire Research and Development program is a new NCAR initiative, led by Richard Wagoner (RAP) and Janice Coen (MMM/RAP). The three major components of the program are wildland fire science, societal impacts, and operational applications. Robert Harriss, Olga Wilhelmi and Kathleen Miller are working on the societal impacts portion of the initiative, which is focused on analyzing and effectively communicating the societal impacts of wildland fire that are relevant to policymaking, strategic planning, and operational decision support systems. Initial research was begun in FY02 that focuses on assessment of user requirements within the wildland fire community and developing a methodology for integrating fire modeling and Geographical Information Systems. In addition, Miller worked with Alison Cullen (U Washington) to develop a proposed project on decision-making for wildfire risk management under uncertainty. This represents a contribution to the Wildland Fire Collaboratory as well. The project website can be found at

Table of Contents | Director's Message
Scientific Highlights | Fundamental Research | Enhancing Productivity | Protection of Life and Property
Education & Outreach | Additional Educational Activities | Publications | Community Service
Staff, Visitors and Collaborators