WWA Research Themes

Extremes and Climate Risk Management

How can we leverage understanding of past extremes and projected future extremes to better inform societal decision making in a changing climate?

Recent destructive extremes in the Intermountain West region are embedded in subtle changes in climatic controls such as atmospheric circulation patterns and moisture sources. Accordingly, WWA sees a valuable opportunity in working with decision makers to place extreme events in the context of historical climate variability and projected climate change, assess how risk varies over time and space, and examine how extreme conditions interact with place-based vulnerability.

We initially focus on severe droughts, and extreme precipitation and floods. As the predominant climate risk for regional water supplies, severe drought has been the subject of several previous WWA research projects and has been implicit in other WWA projects investigating long-term hydrologic variability. Recent severe droughts served as canonical “focusing events” and broadly stimulated WWA co-production and engagement with stakeholders. WWA’s efforts in the wake of the September 2013 Colorado floods have likewise affirmed a useful role for us in characterizing risk and developing information and tools for decision support related to extreme precipitation and floods.

As we develop the theme over the next five years we will identify additional dimensions (e.g. cascading and secondary extremes like landslides) and decision making contexts (e.g. storm-water management) that can be evaluated in the framework of climate risk management, which analyzes the decision context, risks, choices, options and decision criteria as part of the process of working with decision makers to build adaptive capacity.

Current Research Projects