Community Impacts: Understanding Current Hazards and Future Vulnerabilities
Delaware communities are currently susceptible to a variety of natural hazards: floods, severe thunderstorms, coastal storms, winter storms, tornadoes, wildfires and drought. These natural events can happen anywhere, whether a rural town, a large city or a coastal community on the Delaware Bay, Atlantic Ocean or Inland Bays.
Communities also face an increasing degree of uncertainty of impacts that future climatic conditions may have on their areas. Increases in the number of extreme precipitation events may result in more frequent flooding due to drainage and stormwater issues; increases in storm surge flooding that occur during extreme events may have even greater impacts when combined with increasing water levels related to sea level rise.
The economic costs associated with natural hazards and the potential exacerbation of these hazards by climate change can be staggering. In addition to financial costs, natural hazards and associated climate impacts can endanger lives and wreak social and emotional devastation in a community. However, action can be taken ahead of time to prevent or minimize future damages.
Increasingly, communities are moving from a strategy of response to a proactive stance of planning, public education and disaster preparedness. A community plan that identifies actions to be done now can lessen the impact of a disaster before it happens. Whether a flood, severe thunderstorm, wildfire or drought – the plan can provide community benefits such as:
- Reducing public and private damage costs;
- Reducing social, emotional, and economic disruption;
- Increasing access to funding sources for hazard mitigation and climate adaptation projects; and
- Improving and strengthening coordination among community initiatives such as land use regulations, building codes, flood control initiatives, and conservation measures that will ultimately reduce future losses.
Hazard Identification and Climate Impact Assessment
Some of the available tools and resources available to understand local hazards and potential climate impacts are listed below. They will allow communities and individuals to initiate the climate adaptation planning process.
Local hazard mitigation plans – communities who have completed a hazard mitigation plan may have already compiled information pertaining to temperature, precipitation, sea level and natural hazard frequency and intensity. Check existing hazard mitigation plans first to avoid unnecessary data collection.
- Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA)—In Delaware, state hazard mapping and mitigation planning is coordinated primarily by DEMA. DEMA prepares the State Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan and supports and oversees the completion of local mitigation plans required by FEMA under the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. As part of the state hazard mitigation planning process, each of the three counties in Delaware, along with the City of Wilmington, coordinate with municipalities within their jurisdictions to develop local mitigation plans. Information related to hazard mitigation plans developed and adopted by Kent and New Castle counties, as well as the City of Wilmington, can be obtained by contacting DEMA.
- FEMA’s Map Service Center (MSC)—The MSC is the official government distribution center for digital flood hazard mapping products. In order to help communities, the public and other FEMA stakeholders manage and reduce flood risk, FEMA provides a suite of user-friendly tools that support the needs of the public in viewing, analyzing and printing flood hazard maps.
- Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) and Flood Insurance Study (FIS) reports—Produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), these data and tools are the foundation for most local coastal hazard identification and mapping efforts. As a part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) periodically conducts Flood Insurance Studies (FISs) and uses the results of these studies to produce FIS reports and Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). FIRMs show the estimated extent of flooding during a hypothetical “100-year storm” (also called a 1 percent annual storm)—a storm that has an estimated 1 percent chance of being equaled or exceeded during any given year. (Note: A 100-year storm can occur more than once a century.)
- Updated flood hazard maps for New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties have been generated using new flood information and topographic data. Information about the mapping process and map revisions can be found at FEMA’s Risk Assessment, Mapping, and Planning Partners (RAMPP) website. The FEMA flood information portal is a site that enables property owners to enter an address and compare previously effective (2005) and currently effective (2013) flood maps in all three Delaware counties.
- Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC)—DNREC maintains an Environmental Navigator site that can be used to explore the many types of information collected by DNREC such as permitted facilities, enforcement actions and environmental monitoring.
- Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) —The DNREC climate change website contains a general overview of climate change science, information on expected impacts of climate change in Delaware and the Mid-Atlantic and the results of sea level rise and statewide climate change vulnerability assessments.
- The Delaware Climate Change Impact Assessment —To better understand Delaware’s current and future vulnerabilities and risks to climate change, DNREC’s Division of Energy and Climate has conducted a statewide climate change impact and risk assessment. This assessment reflects the best available climate science, climate modeling and projections to illustrate the range of potential vulnerabilities that Delaware may face from the impacts of climate change. The assessment will provide a strong scientific foundation for the development of the state’s adaptation planning and strategy.
- Sea Level Rise Projections—Delaware-specific information on projections for sea level rise is available via the following sites:
- Delaware DNREC has developed a Statewide Adaptation Plan for Sea Level Rise. A general overview of DNREC’s sea level adaptation planning process and the Delaware Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee is available on Delaware Coastal Program’s website.
- A statewide sea level rise map is available, and digital sea level rise maps can be accessed for inundation mapping visualization.
- The Delaware Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee has published a final vulnerability assessment report and developed a public engagement session overview presentation and website with information available in PDF format.
- The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Levels Online site graphs recent trends from Delaware Bay. Long-term records from the Lewes tide gauge show that relative local sea levels have been rising at about 1.05 feet per century.
- The Office of the Delaware State Climatologist (ODSC)—The ODSC is the principal scientific extension service for weather and climate information for the State of Delaware.
- The Delaware Environmental Observing System (DEOS)—DEOS serves as a support tool for decision makers involved with emergency management, natural resource monitoring, transportation and other activities throughout the State of Delaware, providing state agencies and the citizens of Delaware with immediate information about environmental conditions in and around the state.
- Delaware Coastal Flood Monitoring System (CFMS) – The Delaware Coastal Flood Monitoring System (CFMS) is a web-based tool and alert system designed to provide emergency managers, planners, and others the information needed regarding upcoming coastal flood events. The CFMS covers the Delaware Bay coastline from New Castle to Lewes and serves three primary functions: to send out warning alerts up to 48 hrs in advance of potential flood conditions, to provide access to current meteorological and hydrologic conditions, and to provide local tidal predictions and map their areas of impact.
- Delaware Flood Risk Awareness – Community Flood Maps—This collaborative project by Delaware Sea Grant, the U. S. Geological Survey, and Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) uses new mapping technology to create flood visualization maps for various neighborhoods and communities. These community flood risk awareness map products have been created using the best available elevation data in combination with the latest Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood mapping products, as well as high water elevations associated with historic storm events.
- Delaware StormSmart Coasts—The StormSmart Coasts Network provides a menu of information, tools and resources for mitigation, adaptation and management strategies. The site gives coastal decision makers a definitive place to find and share the best resilience-related resources available and provides tools for collaboration.
- County-Level Hazard Overview —For general information on your county’s hazard exposure, have a look at the NOAA Coastal Services Center’s Coastal County Snapshots. There, you can find PDF overviews of population, infrastructure and development trends in floodplain areas for Kent, New Castle and Sussex counties.
- Climate Change and the Delaware Estuary— This 2010 publication, produced by the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, details three climate change vulnerability assessment case studies in the Delaware Estuary Region. It also contains a section summarizing predictions related to changing temperature, precipitation and extreme weather.
- NOAA Coastal Service Center’s Digital Coasts—This website couples data and tools together to help inform coastal decision makers. The site also includes examples on how some communities (including several in the region) are using the site.
- National Climatic Data Center (NCDC)—The NCDC, operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), allows users to search for annual local temperature and precipitation data. Annual data is accessible by going to the “Data” tab and selecting “Annual Summary” in Step 2. This data includes the total number of high heat and high precipitation days each year. Temperature and precipitation extremes for Delaware can also be accessed by visiting the website.
- NOAA Tides and Currents —NOAA’s Tides and Currents website contains sea level rise trends for coastal states, including Delaware.
- Spatial Hazard Events and Losses Database for the United States (SHELDUS)—SHELDUS is a tool designed by the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina. According to its website, “SHELDUS™ is a county level hazard data set for the U.S. for 18 different natural hazard events types such thunderstorms, hurricanes, floods, wildfires and tornadoes. For each event the database includes the beginning date, location (county and state), property losses, crop losses, injuries and fatalities that affected each county.”
- HAZUS —According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), “Hazus is a nationally applicable standardized methodology that contains models for estimating potential losses from earthquakes, floods and hurricanes. Hazus uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology to estimate physical, economic and social impacts of disasters.” Hazus software is available free of charge.
- SLAMM —The Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM) creates maps of predicted future distributions of wetlands under different sea level rise scenarios. SLAMM is a free tool developed for the EPA by Warren Pinnacle Consulting, Inc.
- SLOSH (http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/surge/slosh.php)—The Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) tool, developed by National Weather Service (NWS), is a model that estimates storm surge heights from hurricanes. SLOSH can be run to estimate the storm surge heights of past storms as well as hypothetical future storms.
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