Making climate data actionable for RI communities

By Jessica Filante Farrington and John Emra
Posted 6/21/23

Across the nation, communities consistently look for ways to ensure that their infrastructure withstands the test of time. But as Rhode Island’s state and municipal leaders gaze into the …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Making climate data actionable for RI communities


Across the nation, communities consistently look for ways to ensure that their infrastructure withstands the test of time. But as Rhode Island’s state and municipal leaders gaze into the future, they can see climate change presenting real, catastrophic risk.

One in three Americans say they have been personally affected by an extreme weather event in the past two years. And 90% of U.S. counties have experienced at least one federal declaration of a climate disaster in the last decade.

It is no different in Rhode Island, where flooding, extreme heat, intense storms, sea-level rise and more, continue to affect communities, businesses, and families alike. Municipalities across the state face the challenge of protecting their people against dangerous climate impacts.

Rhode Island does benefit from having proactive leaders. Governor Dan McKee has put green initiatives at the foundation of the state’s progress, most recently signing an executive order in May updating emissions and clean energy goals for state agencies.  And the legislature, guided by Speaker Joe Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, has had a productive past few years when it comes to environmental and climate change-focused action.

But the climate change variable challenges more than just government entities, requiring public/private collaboration and resource-sharing to drive innovative and effective solutions.

The task ahead of us is to help leaders at every level strengthen and upgrade their critical infrastructure – including the roads and bridges we take to work, the schools where our kids learn, and the pipes that carry our water. To build durable infrastructure, communities first need to know exactly what climate challenges they’re up against.

As part of AT&T’s work to address climate change, we teamed up with the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory to develop the Climate Risk and Resilience Portal (ClimRR).

ClimRR serves as a free, publicly accessible portal, providing localized data projections. The tool can empower city planners, emergency managers, policymakers, and community leaders to better understand future climate threats, examine infrastructure vulnerabilities, fortify critical facilities and develop adaptation plans.

ClimRR’s interactive maps allow users to see projected local climate conditions thirty years into the future, which is crucial for long-range planning and preparing each community for their “new normal.”

For Rhode Island, ClimRR data shows temperatures in Providence rising across all seasons. Summer average daily highs in the city are projected to increase nearly five degrees by mid century. At the same time, total annual precipitation is also projected to increase five inches while falling more frequently.

Data like this can help municipal leaders mitigate impacts by upgrading storm drain systems or flood control plans, for example.

Even more critical for equity considerations, ClimRR identifies areas where climate hazards are posing risk to specific populations, enabling municipalities to better protect vulnerable residents.

Other use case examples could include extreme heat analysis layered with community data, enabling equitable plans for cooling centers and community center hours; seasonal businesses making changes to their operating seasons; coastal cities anticipating flooding and sea-level rise’s impact on transportation and building projects; and much more.

Today’s world is interdependent, and resilience can’t be built in a vacuum. From businesses to local community leaders to government officials, all of us must work together.

ClimRR is one piece of a larger puzzle, and we encourage Rhode Island’s state and municipal leaders to check it out, share stories of its applications or collaborate on virtual training sessions.

It’s our hope that all these tools will drive candid conversations about vulnerabilities within our communities. Providing an eye into the future, we can shore up our defenses and build more resilient cities so when the next extreme weather event comes, we’ll be ready.

climate, data, communities