We’re Building Things Based on a Climate We No Longer Live In

We’re Building Things Based on a Climate We No Longer Live In

NOAA precipitation estimates that engineers and planners use to design bridges, roads and other infrastructure are decades out of date because of climate change

CLIMATEWIRE | At a tiny airport in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts, a weather station feeds precipitation data to a NOAA program that publishes the official precipitation estimates for most of the United States.

NOAA’s precipitation estimates cover almost any U.S. location, and they are crucial to engineers and planners in designing projects such as roads and bridges to withstand the worst downpours.

And that’s why a new report by a leading climate research group calls the North Adams, Mass., station “the most extreme case” of what’s wrong with NOAA’s precipitation data and its disregard for climate change.

he North Adams estimates are based on precipitation records that go back to 1816, which the new report says makes them obsolete and inaccurate because they incorporate 200-year-old data and do not account for the current and future effects of climate change.

The station is unique only in the long time span it covers. At thousands of other weather stations across the United States, NOAA is incorporating decades-old records into current estimates while excluding the effects of climate change. The forecasts are known as the Precipitation-Frequency Atlas of the United States, commonly called Atlas 14.

report published Monday morning by the nonprofit First Street Foundation warns that new infrastructure projects built today using Atlas 14 data “are instantly decades out of date.”

As a result, the projects are “unable to adequately protect against current and future flood risks from heavy precipitation events,” the report says.

“We’re designing infrastructure generally to the wrong standards for precipitation risk,” said Jeremy Porter, head of climate implications at the foundation. The organization’s previous analyses of how climate change will worsen events such as hurricanes and wildfires is used by agencies including EPA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Read more at : scientificamerican.com;

Photo: scientificamerican.com, Thomas Shea/AFP via Getty Images

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