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Protection of Life and Property

Challenges to Resort Communities in the Face of Drought

While numerous drought studies focus on the agricultural sector, where the effects of this particular slow-onset hazard (drought) are the most obvious, impacts on the tourism industry are less well understood. The recent Colorado drought provided an opportunity to investigate how resort communities are affected by drought and the types of issues they face from this environmental hazard. An interview series was conducted by Olga Wilhelmi, in collaboration with Deborah Thomas (U Colorado-Denver) and Michael Hayes (U Nebraska), as well as Megan Connors during the summer of 2003 as part of a Quick-Response Grant from the Natural Hazard Center at the University of Colorado in order to evaluate the impacts of the 2002-2003 Colorado drought on resort communities. This study investigates drought perceptions, key concerns, and "lessons learned" as identified by people from across Colorado. An upcoming report will provide a series of recommendations to communities, states, and the federal government that could be used in drought mitigation and planning, thereby potentially reducing the impacts of future droughts on this important economic sector of society.

Climate Variability and Uncertainty in Flood Hazard Planning

Extreme storms create serious flood hazards in the Colorado Front Range, making flood risk an important aspect of state and local planning. Development of floodplain maps, design of storm drainage systems, and construction of bridges and flood-control structures must satisfy established standards of risk. However, the probabilities of extreme precipitation and flooding are particularly uncertain in mountainous areas of the western United States, because of high spatial and temporal variability in precipitation and sparse data. Recent multidisciplinary research has raised serious questions about the accuracy of precipitation frequency estimates currently being used for flood hazard planning in Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states. The project seeks to bring together recent research in meteorology, hydrology, and paleohydrology to suggest ways that new information and methods can be incorporated within existing regulatory structures and processes. The research team includes Mary Downton, Rebecca Morss, Olga Wilhelmi, and Melissa Crandall (all of ESIG), Uli Schneider (GSP), and Eve Gruntfest (U Colorado). Work in FY03 included meeting with floodplain managers and technical experts, studying regulations and decision processes, identifying major uncertainties, and acquiring and analyzing data on extreme storms and floods using tools for extreme value statistics developed within the Assessment Initiative. (This project is also part of the Weather and Climate Impact Assessment Strategic Initiative.)

Development of a Climate/Human Health Program

As the third component of the Weather and Climate Impact Assessment Strategic Initiative, the development of the Climate/Human Health module was initiated in FY03. Jonathan Patz (Johns Hopkins U) collaborated with Linda Mearns and colleagues to develop plans for implementation of an interdisciplinary research program that will bring together leading institutions in health and climate science. Such a program is necessary to successfully tackle research questions in climate-society-health interactions. This program will require the collaboration of a wide range of experts: health professionals, climatologists, biologists, and social scientists in order to analyze the relationships among physical, biological, ecological, and social systems relevant to health impacts. As a first step, a two-week joint ASP/ESIG Summer Colloquium will be held in FY04 to bring together these experts in order to begin implementation of this component of the Strategic Initiative.

Early Warning Systems

During FY02, Michael Glantz received funds from NSF and NCAR to convene a workshop on "Usable Science VIII: Early Warning Systems Do's and Don'ts." An early warning system is made up of several components: the formulation of the warning, the issuance of the warning, and the reception of and response to the warning -- each of which has to be considered in the evaluation of an early warning system. A weakness in any part of the process can render the early warning system ineffective, and a system that does not warn effectively will not be taken seriously. The workshop was co-sponsored by the Chinese Meteorological Administration and the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, and held in Shanghai, China, in mid-October 2003. Thirty-two participants from 12 different countries (Australia, Brazil, China, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, the US) and from several different disciplines and funding agencies gathered to examine ways to improve early warning systems, including types of early warning systems in theory and practice, sustainable development, politics, capacity building for early warning, and much more. A comprehensive workshop report will be available in early FY04. 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.

Estimating Landscape Values

A survey was designed by Adrienne Gret-Regamey and Jennifer Oxelson using the Web as a medium for gathering data on scenic preference for landscapes around Davos, Switzerland. To determine the willingness of people to pay for preferred landscapes, a choice-modeling questionnaire was designed that asked participants to view pairs of pictures from landscape views. Two photographs were selected as base images and other views were simulated. To estimate the contribution of each land cover to the image, a three-dimensional GIS model was developed. The survey was tested with 129 employees from NCAR/UCAR. Posted on the Davos website ( and sent to people in Switzerland by email, the survey was filled out by 263 people. Preliminary analyses show that the base image was preferred over urban growth by 25%, over the building of ski slopes by 18%, and over the forest expansion by 4%. Further statistical analyses will be conducted to estimate the final values of willingness to pay for each view.

Evaluating Societal Needs for Improved Quantitative Precipitation Forecasts (QPFs)

Although improving QPFs has been identified as a near-term priority by a number of meteorological organizations (including NCAR's MMM Division, the US Weather Research Program [USWRP], and the National Weather Service), different types of improvements are likely to lead to different benefits, as well as require different research and operational efforts. To address this issue, Rebecca Morss (ESIG/MMM) is conducting 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. The interviews and surveys are being conducted in collaboration with Eve Gruntfest (U Colorado-Colorado Springs). This assessment is being conducted in conjunction with a USWRP-funded project to develop object-oriented methods for evaluating QPFs in a way that is more user-relevant. Collaborators on the verification project include Barb Brown (RAP), Chris Davis (MMM/RAP), Kevin Manning (MMM), Cindy Mueller (RAP), and Randy Bullock (RAP). This assessment will continue through FY04.

Extreme Weather and Climate Events

Many NCAR divisions are involved in research aspects of extreme weather and climate events. ESIG plays a significant role in modeling and statistical analysis of climate extremes. The following three projects are part of the Weather and Climate Impact Assessment Strategic Initiative. This work is important in order to understand and reduce societal vulnerability and impacts, as well as to link the social sciences to new discoveries in physical meteorology and climate in order to enhance protection of life and property.

Downscaling of Extreme Weather and Climate Phenomena

This project involves the development of methods for downscaling information on the potential for severe thunderstorms, using upper air variables from global reanalysis data, regional models, and global model data. Begun in FY03 as part of the Assessment Initiative, Linda Mearns and Harold Brooks (NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory) have used reanalysis data to develop relationships between tornadoes, large hail, and strong winds with environmental conditions, using observed weather in the United States. The resulting relationships have been applied to the reanalysis data from the rest of the world for a three-year period in order to provide an estimate of the frequency of environmental conditions that are likely to support severe thunderstorms. Currently, Brooks is processing the remaining reanalysis data in order to look at interannual variability and possible trends in the global data. This research will continue into FY04.

Extremes Toolkit

This project is another activity within the Assessment Initiative. During FY02, work was begun on the toolkit, primarily by Greg Young (RAP), in collaboration with Richard Katz. The "extremes toolkit" is web-based software that allows for the statistical analysis of meteorological extremes and their impacts, including a tutorial and software interface designed to be accessible to the broader atmospheric community. During FY03, Eric Gilleland (RAP/GSP) replaced Young as the individual with the task of continuing development of the extremes toolkit, in collaboration with Rick Katz. They completed the development of the graphical user interface and the tutorial, which are available on Rick Katz's website at (click on "toolkit" to view the publicly available software). Doug Nychka (CGD/GSP) assisted with making the software available for downloading on the web. Other than minor changes that may occur after field testing, the extremes toolkit is now available to the general public and atmospheric impact community. (click on above figure to enlarge)

Extreme Events in Climate Models

This part of the Assessment Initiative also began in FY03. Linda Mearns, in collaboration with Doug Nychka and Jerry Meehl (both of CGD) began an analysis of the frequency and intensity of various extreme events that have particular relevance to climate impacts in regional and global climate models. Extreme value theory is being used in these analyses, along with undertaking a detailed examination of the spatial scaling characteristics of extremes in climate models. This research will continue through FY04.

Statistics of Extremes: Ecological Disturbances

In collaboration with Grace Brush and Mark Parlange (both of Johns Hopkins U), Richard Katz began a project in FY03 using the statistics of extremes to model ecological disturbances. Extreme value theory is applied to time series of sediment rates, attempting to identify both the influence of extreme hydrologic events (e.g., heavy rainfall) and of human activities (e.g., land use). A review paper is in preparation for a Special Feature in the journal Ecology.

Increasing Value of Weather Information in Operation of the Electric Power System

The vulnerability of the electric power system to routine weather, as well as to weather extremes, modifies and amplifies the direct impacts of weather on society. Precise advance knowledge of the weather's influence on the electric power system may reduce some of the most common and expensive societal impacts of weather. On 6-7 November 2002, Jeremy Hackney convened a workshop sponsored by the US Weather Research Program on Increasing the Value of Weather Information in the Operation of the Electric Power System. Reliable and high quality electric service is central to public welfare and economic productivity, yet much of electric power decision-making and consumption remains highly exposed to the vagaries of weather. Thirty-five representatives from the electric power industry, electric power research, academics, and research meteorologists were invited to participate in the two-day workshop. Several suggested action items emerged, which included (1) the development of a common data format in archives and forecasts; (2) coupling of forecasts to GIS-based frameworks; (3) detailed analysis of the causes for failure in different weather events; (4) demonstrations of new weather products and their value in industry decision-making; and (5) education programs to inform the industry of cutting-edge capabilities in meteorology. Full workshop results are available on the website and in the workshop report.

Managing Wildland Fire Risks

The vulnerability of individual property, as well as whole communities, to wildland fire events is the product of a large number of autonomous (but mutually interdependent) decisions made over time by individuals whose interests and objectives may conflict. This project, headed by Kathy Miller and Robert Harriss, models the interconnections between land-use and management decisions made by adjacent property owners and local government entities. The significance of such interconnections will be assessed by conducting a local case study of wildfire risk mitigation activities, focusing on analyzing the effects of uncertainty and information in such situations. This research will contribute to the development of policy alternatives, decision support tools, and risk communication methods to improve societal management of wildland fire risks. This project entails major collaboration with the Wildland Fire Strategic Initiative, and also some with the Water Cycle Strategic Initiative. During FY03, Robert Harriss and Seth McGinnis, in collaboration with Brian Muller (U Colorado College of Architecture and Planning) contributed to the development of a decision support tool for wildfire mitigation of loss of life and property at the urban-wildland fire interface. In a collaborative project with Ernesto Arias (U Colorado College of Architecture and Planning), Harriss contributed to the design and implementation of an educational website on the mitigation of fire hazards.


Table of Contents | Director's Message | Executive Summary
Strategic Initiatives
| Fundamental Research | Enhancing Productivity | Protection of Life and Property
Education & Outreach | Additional Educational Activities | Publications | Community Service
Staff, Visitors and Collaborators | ASR 2003 Home