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Western governors seek better climate information

Western weather forecasting should improve under a new agreement between NOAA and the Western Governors' Association.

Extreme weather prompts call for improved forecasting

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Floods, drought, wildfires and severe storms have spurred the Western Governors’ Association and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to make a deal that will improve the  development and delivery of climate science and services to Western states.

The agreement will increase collaboration and boost existing efforts to ensure Western states and the U.S. Pacific islands are better able to plan for natural hazards.

The memorandum of understanding was signed last week at the WGA’s Annual Meeting in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, by NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and Govs. C.L. “Butch” Otter (Idaho) and Chris Gregoire (Washington), the Chair and Vice Chair of WGA. WGA includes Governors from 19 Western states and three U.S. Flag Pacific Islands.

In today’s agreement, WGA and NOAA committed to improve the development, coordination and dissemination of climate information to support the important long-range hazard planning priorities and resource management decisions of WGA members. The agreement articulates two priority areas:

•    disaster risk reduction focusing on the impact of extreme events, such as droughts, floods, fires and tropical cyclones; and,
•    improved science and climate information to support the management of coastal, estuarine, and marine resources important to achieving resilient coastal communities and ecosystems.

The Governors recognize the inextricable link between the climate and the natural resources, infrastructure, economies and communities of the West. This agreement expresses a unified commitment to develop and use sound data and information to effectively manage natural resources and human infrastructure and build a more resilient West.

“This agreement will assist Western state resource managers, agencies and businesses who manage or are affected by natural disasters and weather variability,” said WGA Chairman, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.

“A good working relationship with NOAA in providing the science and information services states need will help us all build healthy and resilient communities and economies,” said WGA vice chair Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“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. Today’s agreement is about good government and good sciences coming together to help people and communities alike, ” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

Given recent events in the West, immediate priorities will include improved coordination and bringing NOAA’s climate information to bear to meet resource challenges related to flooding in the Northern Rockies, drought and fire risk in the Southwest, and ocean and coastal management for the West Coast states. Over time, NOAA and the Western states will coordinate with other ongoing federal and local efforts in order to build the capacity to anticipate and address climate impacts to communities, economies and natural resources.

NOAA, the WGA and Western States have a long history of working together on a number of climate service projects, ensuring the Governors have the best available information on climate phenomena to help their states best prepare for and adapt to both short-term weather events and longer-term changes in climate.

One such service that is widely used now is the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS). In 2004, The Western Governors’ Association called for a NIDIS program to deliver more comprehensive and relevant information on drought in the region. The NIDIS program was developed jointly with Congress, NOAA, WGA and a number of other partners, and the NIDIS Act was passed in 2006.

Today, NIDIS is providing information services including early warning systems for water users, farmers, and fire managers throughout the West. The information is housed in one authoritative drought information portal at drought.gov.

Seasonal outlooks are another valuable climate product NOAA provides to the entire United States. Based on climate information and data, NOAA was able to warn states and communities of the high likelihood of severe flooding in many parts of the Mississippi and Missouri River basins as early as October of last year, and provide more detailed forecasts and projections on a regular basis throughout the spring, ensuring communities were as prepared as possible for the record flooding they are now seeing.

Similarly, based on the ability to detect and forecast large-scale climate phenomena, such as La Nina, and produce seasonal forecasts, NOAA’s winter outlook issued last October called for drier and warmer conditions in the South that would lead to drought and wildfires, which are now widespread throughout the South and West. NOAA’s forecast information was useful in helping communities and local emergency managers to prepare for these events.

These are examples of climate services that are vital to governments, businesses and resource managers across the western region.

More information on programs related to climate adaptation, water and drought can be found at www.westgov.org.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources.

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