NOAA and the Western Governors' Association Tackle Weather and Climate Risk at Regional Forum

  • 4 April 2012
NOAA and the Western Governors' Association Tackle Weather and Climate Risk at Regional Forum

Governor Chris Gregoire, Chair of the Western Governors' Association (WGA), opened a two-day meeting today on planning for extreme weather events and long-term climate trends. The event, called the Pacific Northwest Weather and Climate Outlook Forum, is co-hosted by the WGA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

"Washington has dealt with a series of irregular and extreme weather events, from the Great Coastal Gale of 2007 to January's unusually heavy snowfalls," Gregoire said. "This forum is an opportunity for decision-makers and information specialists from across the Pacific Northwest to strengthen our preparation and response to these types of disasters."

At WGA's 2011 Annual Meeting last June, Gov. Gregoire and Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter of Idaho signed a Memorandum of Understanding with NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco. The WGA-NOAA MOU called for the improvement of development, coordination and dissemination of climate information to support adaptation and decision making for the Western Governors and their constituents.

"When it comes to climate, Western Governors know full well that access to timely and accurate information saves lives and property and helps local businesses," Lubchenco said last year upon signing the MOU. "Today's agreement is about good government and good sciences coming together to help people and communities alike."

The Pacific Northwest Weather and Climate Outlook Forum is the first in a series of regionally focused summits hosted by WGA and NOAA to bring together leading practitioners and policy makers to address weather and climate risk. Government agencies and the private sector have a long history of responding to weather and climate uncertainty. However, increased population and development -- coupled with extreme weather events and long-term climate trends -- have exposed significant vulnerabilities that must be addressed.

Preparing for weather and climate risk is an emerging and rapidly evolving field. Climate affects nearly all aspects of our economy and environment, including transportation, power generation, agriculture, water supply and ecosystems.

"Airports are especially aware of weather impacts for daily operations, from wind to extreme temperatures and native habitat," said Mark Reis, Managing Director of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. "Strong predictive science for long-term planning, like that supported by the WGA-NOAA MOU, will help airports like Sea-Tac prepare for extreme situations that go beyond our daily measurements.

One such extreme event is the possibility of seawater inundation at airports located on an ocean coast -- an unlikely situation for Reis' airport, which is positioned on a high plateau, but a real threat to San Francisco International Airport among others.

Speakers at the forum directly addressed the need to connect science and management through strong predictive tools and agile response networks. Among today's speakers is Dr. Robert Detrick, NOAA Assistant Administrator, Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.

"The National Integrated Drought Information System is a great example of the kind of partnerships we are creating," Detrick said. "NIDIS is working closely with states, counties, agencies, and tribal communities to develop an early warning system to reduce the impacts of droughts. NOAA's agreement with WGA can serve as a model to connect good government and good science in other areas, including floods, wildfires and tropical cyclones."

The forum will continue tomorrow with speakers addressing the future of weather and climate preparedness in the Pacific Northwest. Larry Hartig, Commissioner for Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation, will remotely deliver a presentation on Alaska's Climate Change Sub-Cabinet. Other speakers will present on the tools currently available to business and government planners, including NIDIS. Under the WGA-NOAA MOU, the lessons from this forum will be extended to address weather and climate-related events in other parts of the West, including flooding in the Upper Midwest and drought in the American Southwest.

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