Let’s Talk About the Weather: City of Stillwater helps develop tool to track Oklahoma’s climate trends

Story and image provided by City of Stillwater

Everyone talks about the weather, but the City of Stillwater is doing something about it.

It started with questions: Can local weather patterns provide valuable information to contractors developing a plot of land? Can the patterns help cities plan for potential emergencies? Can they be used to determine whether the local infrastructure can support current and future weather incidents?

By asking these simple questions about climate change patterns, Stillwater’s Emergency Management Director Rob Hill and Development Services Director Paula Dennison got the ball rolling on a new, innovative online tool called the Simple Planning Tool for Oklahoma Climate Hazards.

NOAA’s Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (SCIPP) worked with emergency managers and planners from across the state to develop and test the tool, which was released last April.

“It really is a one-stop shop on everything climate for Oklahoma,” Dennison said. “The benefit is that it organizes the web links and instructions to trusted tools, maps, and graphs on historical weather data all in one place.”

The Simple Planning Tool features data for 10 climate hazards and two non-climate hazards (earthquakes and air quality).

But what does this all mean for Stillwater?

“What’s the average rainfall for Stillwater in the last 15 years,” Hill asked? “How many days of the year has our county been under a tornado watch? What areas within or near our city have the greatest risk for a wildfire? The Simple Planning Tool provides us answers to these questions and more.”

Stormwater management

In Stillwater, rainstorms have become a hot topic since the Aug. 16 flash flood.

“Oklahoma’s climate is already challenging, and rainfall has been especially challenging to manage historically,” SCIPP Deputy Director Rachel Riley said. “Climate change is amplifying that challenge.”

The Simple Planning Tool tells us that heavy rainfall has increased by 12 percent between 1958 and 2016 in Oklahoma. Scientists are confident that heavy rainfall events will increase in frequency and intensity over the 21st century, increasing the chance for flooding.

Riley said the City of Midwest City is using the tool to consider whether to increase the capacity of their retention ponds to handle more stormwater. Several other cities and the state Emergency Management Office are also using it to prepare multi-hazard mitigation plans, including Stillwater.

“For example, we use the data on rainfall and flooding histories to determine which creeks need flash flood monitors in place,” Hill said.

Dennison said this tool can also assist cities when updating land use, economic development, stormwater, and comprehensive plans.

“If by using this tool, we can anticipate what the impact of weather patterns will have on our local environment decades from now, then we can use it to write and adopt plans today that start to strengthen our resiliency when an event occurs,” Dennison said.

Next steps

The City continues to move forward with ideas to better prepare Stillwater for the changing weather patterns the tool is projecting in the near future.

One major strategy is to conduct a stormwater master plan to show the current state of our drainage system and identify projects to improve the capacity of the system for future growth and weather patterns.

Stillwater City Council discussed the purpose and cost of a master plan at its Oct. 1 meeting. The City also recognizes stormwater drainage improvements as one of its critical needs for a potential general obligation bond election.

Meanwhile, the Simple Planning Tool will continue to help the City plan ahead for the weather and its impact.

“Before we could only say that it seems like we are having more rain than in the past,” Hill said. “With the Simple Planning Tool, we now have the data to back it up.”

Want to check out the Simple Planning Tool for yourself? Go to http://www.southernclimate.org/documents/SPTOK.pdf

To learn more about SCIPP and the implementation of this tool, go to http://www.southernclimate.org/pages/news/SPT-OK