White House unveils new climate data mapping tool

 Climate Mapping for Resilience and Adaptation

A new federal climate mapping tool shows Boise’s risk of extreme heat, drought and wildfire. This model shows that, if humans drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Boise will still see an average of 11.5 days hotter than 105 degrees by 2070.

The White House on Thursday unveiled a new online tool that allows people to see what kind of extreme climate risks exist in their area, as well as what kind of risks they might expect in the future.

The Climate Mapping for Resilience and Adaptation tool was created by a cadre of government agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Geological Survey. In a news conference Thursday, federal officials said the website was created as a way to consolidate climate data and look at the way changing climate impacts different demographics.

The online toolkit lets users look at risk of extreme heat, wildfire, drought, flooding and coastal inundation at a county, tribal land or tract level. The models look as far into the future as 2099 — meaning Boise residents can see how their neighborhood is likely to be impacted by climate change in years to come.

Boise at risk of extreme heat, drought and wildfires

Currently, the assessment tool shows several data points for extreme heat, drought and wildfire in Boise. They include maximum temperatures, number of dry days, number of days over 100 degrees and more. Officials said more information will be added, calling the tool “a living portal.”

David Hayes, special assistant to the president for climate policy, said forecasting future wildfires is “a particular challenge.”

“They can’t be modeled on a geographic basis with anywhere near the precision or modeling that extreme heat or flood can,” Hayes said in the news conference.

Hayes and NOAA Undersecretary of Commerce Rick Spinrad said the tool puts climate change in context for residents and helps them understand what impacts they could experience. The assessment tool includes two projections — one showing what climate factors could look like if humans drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 and another that shows the same factors if there is no reduction in emissions levels.

In Boise, even the reduced emissions model shows an increase in days when temperatures exceed 100 degrees. The current average is around 13 days per year, while the model predicts 14.2 days. This year, Boise has hit 100 degrees or higher 27 times as of Wednesday.

Models predict 114 degrees by end of 21st Century

Models also show Idaho with more extreme high temperatures, fewer days with measurable precipitation and more consecutive dry days — all factors that exacerbate drought or extreme heat and can create prime wildfire conditions.

Without a reduction in emissions, models predict that by the end of the 21st Century, Boise could see maximum temperatures up to 114 degrees and spend nearly a month with temperatures exceeding 105 degrees.

The climate mapping tool also includes information about disadvantaged communities, which are more likely to be adversely impacted by climate change. It estimates that 3.2% of the population in Ada County is considered disadvantaged.

The website features tools for local governments to pursue climate resilience in their communities through funding and planning climate hazards. Modeling notes that Boise building codes don’t take into account climate hazards — meaning homes or other structures can be built without consideration of what areas are most at risk of drought, extreme heat or wildfire.

Nicole Blanchard: 208-377-6410, @NMBlanchard