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Joshua J. Hatzis, Jennifer Koch, and Harold E. Brooks

Abstract

In the hazards literature, a near-miss is defined as an event that had a nontrivial probability of causing loss of life or property but did not due to chance. Frequent near-misses can desensitize the public to tornado risk and reduce responses to warnings. Violent tornadoes rarely hit densely populated areas, but when they do they can cause substantial loss of life. It is unknown how frequently violent tornadoes narrowly miss a populated area. To address this question, this study looks at the spatial distribution of possible exposures of people to violent tornadoes in the United States. We collected and replicated tornado footprints for all reported U.S. violent tornadoes between 1995 and 2016, across a uniform circular grid, with a radius of 40 km and a resolution of 0.5 km, surrounding the centroid of the original footprint. We then estimated the number of people exposed to each tornado footprint using proportional allocation. We found that violent tornadoes tended to touch down in less populated areas with only 33.1% potentially impacting 5000 persons or more. Hits and near-misses were most common in the Southern Plains and Southeast United States with the highest risk in central Oklahoma and northern Alabama. Knowledge about the location of frequent near-misses can help emergency managers and risk communicators target communities that might be more vulnerable, due to an underestimation of tornado risk, for educational campaigns. By increasing educational efforts in these high-risk areas, it might be possible to improve local knowledge and reduce casualties when violent tornadoes do hit.

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Jennifer R. Fownes and Shorna B. Allred

Abstract

The general public’s perceptions of climate change may be shaped by local climate impacts through the mechanism of experiential processing. Although climate change is a long-term global trend, individuals personally experience it as weather from moment to moment. This study assesses how New York State adults’ overall perceptions of their personal experiences with the effects of climate change and extreme weather (surveyed in early 2014) are related to recent weather conditions. This research is unique in that it examines multiple types of weather: temperature and precipitation, over 1 day or 1 week, quantified both as relative and nonrelative measures. Respondents’ perceptions that they had personally experienced climate change or extreme weather significantly increased with warmer relative (percentage of normal) minimum temperatures on the day of the study. Maximum temperatures and total precipitation levels were not significant predictors of perceptions of personal experience, either on the day of the study or over the preceding week. Experiential processing had a smaller effect on perceptions than motivated reasoning, the influence of preexisting ideas. Respondents who believed that climate change was happening agreed more that they had personally experienced it or extreme weather, and this effect increased for individuals who thought that climate change was anthropogenic, as opposed to naturally caused. Of the sociodemographic factors assessed here, political party, gender, and region were significant predictors, while age and education were not.

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Matthew J. Widlansky, H. Annamalai, Stephen B. Gingerich, Curt D. Storlazzi, John J. Marra, Kevin I. Hodges, Barry Choy, and Akio Kitoh

Abstract

Potential changing climate threats in the tropical and subtropical North Pacific Ocean were assessed, using coupled ocean–atmosphere and atmosphere-only general circulation models, to explore their response to projected increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Tropical cyclone occurrence, described by frequency and intensity, near islands housing major U.S. defense installations was the primary focus. Four island regions—Guam and Kwajalein Atoll in the tropical northwestern Pacific, Okinawa in the subtropical northwestern Pacific, and Oahu in the tropical north-central Pacific—were considered, as they provide unique climate and geographical characteristics that either enhance or reduce the tropical cyclone risk. Guam experiences the most frequent and severe tropical cyclones, which often originate as weak systems close to the equator near Kwajalein and sometimes track far enough north to affect Okinawa, whereas intense storms are the least frequent around Oahu. From assessments of models that simulate well the tropical Pacific climate, it was determined that, with a projected warming climate, the number of tropical cyclones is likely to decrease for Guam and Kwajalein but remain about the same near Okinawa and Oahu; however, the maximum intensity of the strongest storms may increase in most regions. The likelihood of fewer but stronger storms will necessitate new localized assessments of the risk and vulnerabilities to tropical cyclones in the North Pacific.

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Lauren M. Andersen, Abie N. Bonevac, Laura K. Thompson, Kara E. Dempsey, Elizabeth D. Shay, and Margaret M. Sugg

Abstract

In 2016, an exceptional drought and subsequent wildfires devastated the southeastern United States. Western North Carolina (WNC), a socioeconomically growing region that is dependent on revenue from tourism and agriculture, was particularly impacted by the events. The Southeast is not typically considered to be water vulnerable, and few studies have explored drought and wildfire in WNC. However, the region is projected to experience elevated water vulnerability as a result of rapid population growth and increased climatic variability. The recent events highlight the need for better understanding of water-related experiences and perceptions to inform proactive policies for risk mitigation in WNC. To evaluate stakeholder experiences and perceptions relating to the events in 2016, the authors conducted telephone interviews with key informants from a variety of sectors in two counties (Buncombe and Watauga) and then subjected their responses to content analysis. Informants frequently discussed themes relating to the “Natural Resources and Environment” code group, with responses revealing concerns about the health effects of smoke exposure, as well as water quantity. Other common topics of discussion for informants include water management, public awareness, and disaster severity. The prevalence of other themes varied by county, demonstrating the importance of local context. Surprisingly, informants rarely discussed risk in the context of increasing population and development, suggesting that current policies may inadequately address future risks. Stakeholders across all sectors placed substantial emphasis on information dissemination both within agencies and to the public. With a better understanding of key-informant experiences and perceptions, policymakers will be better equipped to address policy shortcomings as well as to prepare for future hazards.

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Scott E. Kalafatis, Julie C. Libarkin, Kyle Powys Whyte, and Chris Caldwell

Abstract

Engagements between climate scientists and communities feature challenges but are also essential for successfully preparing for climate change. This is particularly true for indigenous peoples who are proactively responding to the threats that climate change poses by engaging in collaborations with climate decision-support organizations. The potential for risks and rewards associated with engagements like these makes developing tools for comprehensively, consistently, and equitably assessing cross-cultural climate collaborations a critical challenge. This paper describes a multicultural team’s efforts to develop a survey that can assess collaborations between Native American tribes in the United States and climate science organizations. In the process, the developing survey’s oscillations between acting as a boundary object and acting as an epistemic object in the project revealed common ground as well as existing differences across the cultural, disciplinary, and professional divides involved. Delphi expert elicitation was shown to be an effective approach for negotiating a cross-cultural research effort like this one because of its ability to establish consensus while delineating gaps. This experience highlights that assessing cross-cultural climate collaborations requires that both researchers and the tools that they use have the capacity to identify both common ground and distinctions between climate scientists and the communities with which they collaborate.

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Emmanuel Nyadzi, E. Saskia Werners, Robbert Biesbroek, Phi Hoang Long, Wietse Franssen, and Fulco Ludwig

Abstract

Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa face many difficulties when making farming decisions due to unexpected changes in weather and climate. Access to hydroclimatic information can potentially assist farmers to adapt. This study explores the extent to which seasonal climate forecasts can meet hydroclimatic information needs of rice farmers in northern Ghana. First, 62 rice farmers across 12 communities were interviewed about their information needs. Results showed that importance of hydroclimatic information depends on the frequency of use and farming type (rain-fed, irrigated, or both). Generally, farmers perceived rainfall distribution, dam water level, and temperature as very important information, followed by total rainfall amount and onset ranked as important. These findings informed our skills assessment of rainfall (Prcp), minimum temperature (Tmin), and maximum temperature (Tmax) from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF-S4) and at lead times of 0 to 2 months. Forecast bias, correlation, and skills for all variables vary with season and location but are generally unsystematic and relatively constant with forecast lead time. Making it possible to meet farmers’ needs at their most preferred lead time of 1 month before the farming season. ECMWF-S4 exhibited skill in Prcp, Tmin, and Tmax in northern Ghana except for a few grid cells in MAM for Prcp and SON for Tmin and Tmax. Tmin and Tmax forecasts were more skillful than Prcp. We conclude that the participatory coproduction approach used in this study provides better insight for understanding demand-driven climate information services and that the ECMWF-S4 seasonal forecast system has the potential to provide actionable hydroclimatic information that may support farmers’ decisions.

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Elspeth Oppermann, Yolande Strengers, Cecily Maller, Lauren Rickards, and Matt Brearley

Abstract

One of climate change’s most certain impacts is increasingly frequent and extreme heat. Heat management and climate adaptation policies generally utilize temperature and humidity thresholds to identify what constitute “extreme” conditions. In the workplace, such thresholds can be used to trigger reductions in work intensity and/or duration. In regions that routinely exceed proposed thresholds, however, this approach can be deeply problematic and raises critical questions about how frequently exposed populations already manage and mitigate the effects of extreme heat. Drawing on social practice theories, this paper repositions everyday engagements with extreme heat in terms of practices of work. It finds that bodies absorb and produce heat through practices, challenging the view that extreme heat is an “external” risk to which bodies are “exposed”. This theoretical starting point also challenges the utility of threshold-based adaptation strategies by demonstrating how heat is actively coproduced by living, performing bodies in weather. This argument is exemplified through a case study of outdoor, manual workers in Australia’s monsoon tropics, where work practices were adapted to reduce thermal load. More specifically, we find that workers “weather” work and “work” the weather to enable work to be done in extreme conditions. Our analysis of everyday heat adaptation draws attention to the generative capacities of bodies and unsettles two established separations: 1) that between climatic exposure and sensitivity, calling for a more embodied, experiential, and performed perspective and 2) that between climatic impacts and (mal)adaptation, calling for an understanding of climate adaptation, as located in everyday practices, in the management of bodies in weather.

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Dana R. N. Brown, Todd J. Brinkman, David L. Verbyla, Caroline L. Brown, Helen S. Cold, and Teresa N. Hollingsworth

Abstract

Subsistence harvesters in high latitudes rely on frozen rivers for winter access to local resources. During recent decades, interior Alaskan residents have observed changes in river ice regimes that are significant hindrances to travel and subsistence practices. We used remote sensing in combination with local observations to examine changes in seasonality of river breakup and freeze-up and to assess the implications on travel for subsistence harvesters. Spring and autumn air temperatures, respectively, were found to impact timing of breakup (−2.0 days °C−1) and freeze-up (+2.0 days °C−1). Spring air temperatures have increased by 0.2°–0.6°C decade−1 over the last 62–93 years, depending on study area and time period. Local observations indicate that the breakup season has advanced by about 6 days over the last century. Autumn air temperatures have not changed over the long term, but have been generally warmer over the last 15 years. Over various time periods throughout the last century, we found no change in freeze-up timing for some communities, whereas other communities showed delays of 1.0–2.1 days decade−1. The length of time the river was unsafe for travel during the freeze-up season was 2 to 3 times greater than during breakup. The duration of river ice cover for safe travel has declined over the last century and is expected to decline further as the climate continues to warm, thereby presenting new challenges to accessing subsistence resources and necessitating community adaptation.

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Lawrence C. Hamilton, Mary Lemcke-Stampone, and Curt Grimm

Abstract

Public acceptance of the reality of human-caused climate change has risen gradually in the United States, reflecting cumulative impacts from scientific research and communication, and perhaps also from experienced manifestations such as extreme weather or change to familiar seasons. In the rural North Country of northern New England, a key manifestation of climate change has been warming winters. A 2017 survey asked North Country residents whether they thought that recent winters have been warmer compared with earlier decades. Winter warming, which in this historically snowy region has broad impacts ranging from the economy to everyday life, was recognized by a majority of residents young and old, male and female, with little or much education—but not by the most conservative. Although our winter question does not mention climate change, responses followed patterns similar to a subsequent question about human-caused climate change. Moreover, the partisan gradient in response to both winter and climate questions is steepest among people reporting that most of their friends belong to the same political party. Partisan constraints on perception of a mundane physical reality could limit the scope for weather or climate experiences to alter beliefs among those whose political/social identity favors climate-change rejection.

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Jason A. Otkin, Tonya Haigh, Anthony Mucia, Martha C. Anderson, and Christopher Hain

Abstract

The evolution of a flash drought event, characterized by a period of rapid drought intensification, is assessed using standard drought monitoring datasets and on-the-ground reports obtained via a written survey of agricultural stakeholders after the flash drought occurred. The flash drought impacted agricultural production across a five-state region centered on the Black Hills of South Dakota during the summer of 2016. The survey asked producers to estimate when certain drought impacts, ranging from decreased soil moisture to plant stress and diminished water resources, first occurred on their land. The geographic distribution and timing of the survey responses were compared to the U.S. Drought Monitor and to datasets depicting anomalies in evapotranspiration, precipitation, and soil moisture. Overall, the survey responses showed that this event was a multifaceted drought that caused a variety of impacts across the region. Comparisons of the survey reports to the drought monitoring datasets revealed that the topsoil moisture dataset provided the earliest warning of drought development, but at the expense of a high false alarm rate. Anomalies in evapotranspiration were closely aligned to the survey reports of plant stress and also provided a more focused depiction of where the worst drought conditions were located. This study provides evidence that qualitative reports of drought impacts obtained via written surveys provide valuable information that can be used to assess the accuracy of high-resolution drought monitoring datasets.

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