Central Ohio Planners Spend $1.4M On Climate Change Study

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A flooded Findlay, Ohio neighborhood on August 22, 2007.(Photo: Blondie5000 (flickr))
A flooded Findlay, Ohio neighborhood on August 22, 2007.(Photo: Blondie5000 (flickr))

Central Ohio government planners are spending more than a million dollars to study the possible impact of climate change on the region’s water supply. The expenditure comes as researchers and local government officials pay closer attention to volatile weather.

Stranded in rain

Last week, severe thunderstorms in Ohio forced temporary closure of two interstate highways in the Dayton area. Some drivers on I-70 were trapped in four feet of water. The rush of water quickly overran a retaining wall designed to keep the interstates from flooding. The National Weather Service says more rain fell in a small area within a six hour period, than normally falls in several months.

“Radar estimates and rain gauges recorded about two to four inches in that area but there were some spots probably that recorded up to five inches,” says National Weather Service meteorologist, Scott Hickman.

Hickman says the cloudbursts occurred when thunderstorms kept re-developing over the same area.

David Bromwich, professor at Ohio State University Byrd Research Center studies the earth’s atmosphere. He says decades of data indicate the climate is changing. Climate models project Ohio could see more spring and summer downpours interspersed with long periods of dry weather.

“Let’s say you’re looking at the frequency, so how many of these heavy downpours happen and you average over a few years and you see a lot more than previously that’s the kind of signal you can be fairly sure is linked to climate change.”

Area planners prepare

Now, local governments are beginning to pay attention to climate change models. The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is spending $1.4 million to develop a water resource and usage plan. MORPC Spokesman David Rutter says the plan is needed since Central Ohio gets 85 percent of its water supply from the Scioto River and its tributaries. He says the plan uses four different climate change scenarios for the region ranging from severe drought to frequent flooding.

“They all project increasing temperatures, but some of them show less rainfall, some of them show more,” says Rutter.

Franklin County commissioner Paula Brooks says public safety requires local governments to look at changing weather patterns and long term climate impacts. She says capital spending on storm sewer systems and other infrastructure should be built to withstand more frequent extreme weather.

“We can’t wait, if we wait the cost will be more. We’ll be building for 20 years and that cost will be just down the tubes because we’ll have to rebuild those systems,” says Brooks.

Brooks, who was recently appointed to a White House task force on climate preparedness, cites Hurricane Ike, the 2012 derecho that caused lengthy power outages in Central Ohio and the record cold and heavy snow of last winter as examples of increasingly volatile weather affecting Central Ohio.