Current Research

Water Resources

Water Management Strategies in the High Plains of Texas: Past and Present Institutional Approaches to Sustainable Water Governance

  • This project investigates the adaption strategies of political and social systems in Texas to water shortages. This is important because the strategies used by different water management areas can have a huge impact on water resources and water availability. Also, understanding the decision-making process behind these strategies is an important step in preparing for future water crises.

    Research Dates: 2012 - present

    Investigator(s): Carrie Pavlowsky, Mark Shafer

Water Reservoir Data and Visualization Tools for the Southern Great Plains

  • During the Southern Plains drought of 2011, it was apparent that water resources information was sparse, distributed and inconsistent. These facts were highlighted in several drought forums and on a webinar series, Managing Drought in the Southern Plains, hosted by SCIPP in collaboration with NOAA’s Regional Climate Services Director (RCSD) and the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS). Based upon this finding, SCIPP has pursued a two-pronged approach to addressing this problem. The Southern Regional Climate Center (SRCC) has sought and obtained funding to develop an integrated reservoir database, built upon the Applied Climate Information System (ACIS) framework. The second component is engagement with stakeholders in the region to assess requirements for design of the database and visualization tools, which is the focus of this initiative.

    Research Dates: 2012 - present

    Investigator(s): Kevin Robbins, Hal Needham, David Sathiaraj, Mark Shafer, Margret Boone

Storm Hazards

A Hybrid Procedure for Classifying Synoptic Weather Types for Louisiana with an Application to Precipitation Variability

  • Synoptic Classification is a powerful tool for studying weather and climate impacts, however there is no widely accepted automated synoptic weather classification system for the Louisiana/Gulf Coast region. This project developed an automated version of a manual synoptic classification system developed by Muller at Louisiana State University, called the “Muller Weather Types for Louisiana”. We hope to soon make this information available “near real-time” for stakeholders so that the weather types can be used to better understand surface weather variability in the region and the impact on entities such as human health, air pollution, etc.

    Research Dates: 2012-present

    Investigators: Amanda Billiot, Barry Keim

A Review of Tropical Cyclone-Generated Storm Surges: Global Data Sources, Observations and Impacts

  • This study provides the first comprehensive literature review on global storm surge data sources, observations and impacts. We utilized literature from governments, peer-reviewed journal articles and newspaper archives to document global storm surges since 1880. This work identified the location and height of more than 700 storm surges, the majority of which were located in the Western North Atlantic (U.S. and Caribbean), Western North Pacific (East Asia), Northern Indian Ocean, and Australia/ Oceania. We are developing a global surge map and database to spatially reference these events.

    Research Dates: 2008-2014

    Investigator(s): Hal Needham, Barry Keim, Amanda Lewis

Calculating Storm Surge Return Periods Along the Gulf of Mexico

  • The primary goal of this research has been to identify maximum storm surge height and location of peak surge for storm events occurring between 1880-2013 along the U.S. Gulf Coast. More than 80 sources of information including more than 3,000 pages of newspaper have been used to construct the database that includes just under 200 surge events. The data are stored in a GIS database that outputs maps according to surge height, year, and/or magnitude. The surge data are also being used to calculate return periods for extreme surge levels along the Gulf Coast region.

    Research Dates: 2008 - present

    Investigator(s): Hal Needham, Barry Keim, David Sathiaraj, Amanda Lewis

Mangrove Livelihood and Extreme Weather Events

  • As climate change occurs, the frequency of freeze events will affect the presence and abundance of mangrove trees in Louisiana and neighboring states. Black mangroves (Avicennia germinans) provide Louisiana with numerous ecosystem services, including habitat for wildlife, sediment stabilization, and carbon sequestration. However these trees are highly sensitive to cold weather events. Fewer freeze events would allow for expansion of the black mangrove at the expense of salt marsh vegetation, while more frequent freeze events would result in the contraction or death of mangrove forests. This project uses historical temperature data to identify the frequency, duration, and intensity of cold-air outbreaks along and near the Louisiana coastline. Changes in the frequency, duration, and intensity of cold air outbreaks are being examined to evaluate the potential for future mangrove forest range expansion in response to climate change.

    Research Dates: 2014

    Investigator(s): Marisa Brumfield, Michael Osland, Richard Day, Mark Shafer

Storm Surge Return Levels for the U.S. Gulf Coast

  • SURGEDAT’s comprehensive storm surge archive provides a unique opportunity to estimate coastal flooding frequencies. We are using data-driven statistical methods to estimate storm surge return levels, such as the height of the 100-year or 50-year storm surge, in specific locations. We have now completed a preliminary study that analyzed data for 26 Gulf Coast locations. This analysis will be submitted for peer-reviewed publication this winter.

    Research Dates: 2008-2014

    Investigator(s): Hal Needham, Barry Keim, Amanda Lewis


Drought Decisions and Support in the Rio Grande - Rio Bravo River Basin

  • The Rio Grande/Bravo River Basin (RGB) of the United States and México, is exposed to tornadoes, severe storms, hurricanes, winter storms, wildfire, and drought. In order to contribute to increased binational preparedness, information flow, and knowledge exchange in the region, the project investigators developed a prototype quarterly RGB Climate Outlook. The RGB Outlook features a synthesis of climate products, impact data and analysis, and is expressed in user-friendly language. The RGB Outlook is co-produced with colleagues from the U.S. and Mexico, in conjunction with the North American Climate Services Partnership (NACSP). Using an online survey, the project team will perform an evaluation of the uses of the RGB Outlook, and will report basic use statistics and recommendations for improving the prototype.

    In order to develop capacity in the binational Rio Grande-Rio Bravo (RGB) river basin to cope with drought, use climate prediction information and analysis, and to foster planning for uncertain future conditions, the team will convene a Climate Adaptation Workshop under the auspices of NACSP. Participants will include U.S., Mexican, and Canadian weather, water, and climate information providers, research scientists, and natural resource managers. In the two-day workshop, participants will learn and use scenario planning methods to develop and examine strategies for coping with future climate uncertainty at seasonal and multi-decade time scales. The workshop will facilitate interactions between NACSP scientists, climate services partners, and stakeholders with a focus on ecological, water resources, and economic management challenges and concerns in the RGB, with a focus on drought conditions.

    Research Dates: 2013 - present

    Investigator(s): Mark Shafer, Alek Krautmann

Dry Spell Trends and Frequencies in the South Central United States

  • This research focuses on the analysis of 70 weather stations across the South to detect trends in periods lacking rainfall. This also includes a study of seasonal variability at these sites to produce return periods. Through quantifying past periods of dry conditions, this research aims to support future development of a state-level drought plans in the south central region. With climate model projections pointing towards more frequent - and extended - rain free periods across the South, the development of state-level drought plans is becoming increasingly more important.

    Research Dates: 2008 - present

    Investigator(s): Michael Roberts, Jill Trepanier, Barry Keim

Ecological Impacts of Drought

  • While much attention is focused on agricultural and economic impacts of the drought, less is known about how the drought has affected ecological niches. Attendant wildfires have decimated some critical habitats, such as that needed by the Houston Toad in the Lost Pines area near Bastrop, Texas. The western fringes of the region appear to be undergoing desertification, with large dust storms occurring nearly weekly during the summer of 2013. Other areas face water shortages, particularly along the Rio Grande River and the Lower Colorado River in Texas. This project focuses on ecological impacts of drought. Data are being gathered through interviews and surveys of area wildlife management officials and through collection of published records from wildlife refuges.

    Research Dates: 2014

    Investigator(s): Kyle Williams, Mark Shafer

Managing Drought in the Southern Plains

  • A drought of strong intensity and vast geographical extent has gripped areas of the South Central United States for several years. To respond to these severe ongoing conditions, multiple efforts were launched to engage decision makers in regional, state and local arenas in a conversation about drought. A four-pronged approach was used to assure that all of these arenas were addressed: regional workshops, state drought planning, a series of webinars and supporting local impact reporting. The net effect of these efforts is that interaction between these arenas and between the academic and practitioner communities increased substantially. Many decision makers have participated in multiple activities, such as state drought planners attending the regional workshops or local Farm Service Agency offices participating in the drought webinars and impact reporting.

    Research Dates: 2011 - present

    Investigator(s): Mark Shafer, Margret Boone, Alek Krautmann

Quantifying the Impacts of Drought

  • This project will quantify economic, social and ecological impacts of drought in Tillman County, Oklahoma. Tillman is a rural, wheat-growing area in the southwest part of the state that seems to get a decent crop about every-other year. The project team will conduct one or more town-hall meetings in Tillman County to discuss general drought impacts, especially the secondary and tertiary impacts that cascade slowly through the economy and social fabric. We want to get as much quantifiable information as we can, such as losses or gains in revenue, but we also want to measure social and psychological impacts, adaptation strategies, and observations about changes in their environment, even if only in a qualitative sense.

    Research Dates: 2014

    Investigator(s): Brianna Treat, Mark Shafer

Responding to News Stories about Drought

  • This project addresses three questions about what happens when individuals access news stories about drought: (1) What do they think? (2) Why do they have different thoughts? (3) What are the consequences for decision-making? The model proposes that thoughts or implications derived from news stories are influenced by experience with extreme weather, belief in climate change, and story appraisal. Implications (both quantity and type) lead to outcomes such as fear, sympathy, and endorsing action.

    Research Dates: 2012 - present

    Investigator(s): Renee Edwards, Jonathon Denham


Climate Training for Native American Tribes

  • This project involves developing and conducting two-day climate training workshops, including an introduction to a climate vulnerability assessment, for Native American Tribes in Oklahoma and Texas. The SCIPP region is home to 47 tribes, most of which (39) are located in Oklahoma. Prior SCIPP work including a needs assessment and a climate adaptation workshop has revealed the need for climate education for Native American Tribes, especially for those who work in their tribe’s environmental department. Tribal Nations are one of the most vulnerable populations to climate change, and education is needed so that our tribal colleagues can make more scientifically-informed decisions. Not only will this benefit the tribes but the broader public as well since scientifically informed decisions can lead to a better use of publicly funded resources.

    Research Dates: 2013 - 2015

    Investigator(s): Alek Krautmann, Rachel Riley, Mark Shafer

May 20 Newcastle/Oklahoma City/Moore Tornado: Post-Disaster Assessment of Preparedness, Planning and Recovery

  • Moore, Oklahoma and surrounding communities have been struck by three major tornadoes within a span of only 14 years. From an outsider’s anecdotal perspective, it appears that the response to and recovery from the 20 May 2013 tornado has gone well. Given that tornadoes occur relatively randomly and infrequently, this event provides a unique opportunity to learn what impact “repeat” events have on city response and recovery mechanisms. SCIPP is gathering insight from emergency managers and key decision makers involved in the tornado response and recovery. Under investigation are the institutional and structural policies related to this event in the areas of policy for disaster planning and emergency management. Questions that will be covered relating to emergency management include: What lessons learned from the 1999 and 2003 events were implemented for this event? What decisions were made on-the-fly to respond to the disaster? Policy questions include: Which interagency relationships are most valuable? What factors were successful or a barrier to providing continuity of services? Additional topics covered in the assessment involve sheltering, managing resources and volunteers, and debris removal. A goal of this study is to promote planning and preparedness as important for mitigating, responding to and recovering from natural disasters.

    Research Dates: 2013 - present

    Investigator(s): Mark Shafer, Alek Krautmann, Rachel Riley, Margret Boone, Katy Christian

The Vulnerability of Oil Refineries and Power Plants to Storm Surge along the U.S. Gulf Coast

  • The storm surge return levels analysis is useful for analyzing the vulnerability of critical infrastructure to storm surge inundation. We collaborated with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to conduct a study on the vulnerability of critical energy infrastructure to storm surge along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Oak Ridge provided the location and elevation of hundreds of energy facilities, while SCIPP provided storm surge return levels. Preliminary results reveal that 72% of coastal refineries and 63% of coastal power plants are vulnerable to the 100-year storm surge along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

    Research Dates: 2014

    Investigator(s): Hal Needham, Amanda Lewis, Barry Keim

Critical Thresholds

Landscape Conservation Cooperatives Climate Survey

  • Several RISA Teams are collaborating on a survey of DOI Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) and their partners to identify opportunities for NOAA and its partners to improve access to information they need for decision making. The survey is being conducted to provide a sense of the types of weather and climate information they use and need for decisions relating to landscape management or other operational considerations. Questions relate to decisions from a week-by-week basis to long-term changes.

    Research Dates: 2014

    Investigator(s): Emily Day, Mark Shafer

Weather Effects on Surface Water as Waterfowl Habitat

  • SCIPP collaborated with the Gulf Coast Joint Venture to examine weather effects on wintering waterfowl habitat along the Texas Gulf Coast. The goal was to identify indices that can help predict the acreage of flooded habitat, suitable for waterfowl, each year. Three different time periods were used to assess habitat conditions: early season (late summer/fall), mid-season (winter), and late season (late winter/early spring). The project combines a variety of weather and climate indices with satellite-based estimates of flooded habitat (wetlands for waterfowl). In particular, drought indices were obtained from the Drought Risk Atlas, along with temperature and precipitation data from National Weather Service observing stations. Results show that some variables have significant correlations and that these variables and strength of the relationship vary during the three periods. Current research focuses on expanding the number of data sources and comparing to other regions along the Gulf Coast.

    Research Dates: 2014

    Investigator(s): Tara Rodgers, Steve DeMaso, Nicholas Enwright, Mark Shafer

Hazard Planning

Climate Extremes in the Southeastern United States: Observed Trends, Spatial Variability, and Related Planning

  • Extremes are particularly important elements of climate in the Southeastern United States. Since 1980, the Southeast has been involved in more billion-dollar weather and climate disasters than any other region in the country, largely due to hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes. Is this reflective of a changing climate, or increasing population and industry across the the region? The objectives of this study are to 1) assess annual spatial and temporal trends in temperature and precipitation extremes from 1948 to 2012 for the Southeast, 2) examine seasonal trends in temperature and precipitation extremes, and 3) develop a regionalization of extreme variability across the region.

    Research Dates: 2012 - present

    Investigator(s): Emily Powell, Barry Keim

Measuring Impacts

A Location-Based Storm Surge History for the U.S. Gulf Coast

  • The SURGEDAT database has now archived more than 5,200 high water marks from tropical surges along the U.S. Gulf Coast. We are now beta-testing a Web tool that utilizes these observations to provide location-based storm surge histories for coastal locations. This tool provides a complete list of large and small surges from South Padre Island, Texas, along the Gulf Coast to the Florida Keys. Please contact us if you’re interested in beta-testing this product.

    Research Dates: 2008-2014

    Investigator(s): Hal Needham, Barry Keim, David Sathiaraj, Amanda Lewis