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Science and Innovations

Earth Notes: Flagstaff Plans for a Changing Climate

Sitting high and mainly dry, residents of the Colorado Plateau don’t have to worry about rising sea levels as the Earth’s climate warms. But in recent years parts of the plateau have experienced record warming and low moisture, damaging winter storms, and severe wildfires and flooding.

Whether these are short-term weather events, or signs of a longer-term change in climate, remains to be seen. But some in the region are already adapting to what they fear could be even greater impacts caused by an altered climate.

In Flagstaff, a team of city staff and community partners recently released a Resiliency and Preparedness Study. They assessed how vulnerable a great variety of municipal operations are to changes in climate patterns. What they found is that water supplies, emergency services, and forest health are most at risk.

The study will aid city planners in anticipating and preparing for effects on infrastructure and other city services. For example, larger floods are expected in the future; to prepare, transportation designers may begin requiring larger culverts for today’s road-construction or repair projects.

City sustainability specialist Stephanie Smith says that local governments are on the front lines of managing impacts from weather.

She says that the city’s unique approach has made it a case study for the nation. Indeed, Flagstaff recently received a national award for focusing on the direct relationship of city operations to weather.

Although the impacts of weather and climate are of worldwide concern, ultimately “everything’s local,” she says.

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