ARCHITECTS and ENGINEERS

Tracking Climate in Resilient Planning

By Peter Dahl and Ariane Laxo, LEED AP ID+C

Resilient facility planning involves forecasting, assessing and planning for potential risks that can disrupt building operations and/or threaten health and safety of occupants. Successful planning identifies and evaluates the most likely risks and proposes solutions before disruption occurs.

climate.pngFlooding along the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul.

Climate can be a potential risk and is top-of-mind for many facility owners. Much of our existing infrastructure was planned around static, historic climate data that was assumed to be consistent and unchanging. Yet with resilient facility planning, we cannot take climate for granted, especially as 100-year weather events occur with increasing frequency globally.

To learn more about how climate impacts facility planning, we recently invited climatologist Mark Seeley, PhD, to visit our office for a presentation and conversation. Seeley is a Professor in the Department of Soil, Water and Climate at the University of Minnesota, a commentator on Minnesota Public Radio, and writes a WeatherTalk blog.

As Seeley notes, there is growing recognition that the climate is changing. In the Great Lakes Region, for instance, he reports that there have been measurable changes occurring over the past 50 years, including warmer winter temperatures, higher frequency of tropical-like dew points, and an overall increase in precipitation variability and other hydrologic features.

He carefully defines the difference between weather and climate--weather is a "moment in time," while climate is a "spatial and temporal history of weather patterns." He further explains that models suggest our climate will continue to change in step with observed trends. 2015, for instance, was the warmest year on record globally since accurate record-keeping began in the 1880s.

"It is important for us to acknowledge and gain a better understanding of these changes so that we are able to adapt effectively in the management of our natural resources and our infrastructure," he says. "We have to adapt short-term to mitigate long-term risk."

While Seeley focused his presentation on the Great Lakes region, the climate dialogue is global with regional variables. Experts such as Seeley and other climatologists are an excellent resource for quantifiable data that we can apply when planning facilities. Other reliable resources such as the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration and the American Meteorological Society provide deep-dive databases that can inform our design process. And upcoming, the National Adaptation Forum will offer another excellent resource as leaders in climate, government, business and architecture share ideas, research and solutions on resiliency in May 2017.

As Seeley suggests, climate change is not so much a dire warning as an opportunity. "American ingenuity is so profound that we can transform the economy in innovative ways, through renewable energy and other technology. Yet the more we delay solutions, the more problems we will have. We can move a lot more quickly into the future through innovation."

By partnering with climatologists, design professionals understand how buildings respond to climate--now and into the future. While there is much uncertainty surrounding future climate, our goal at HGA is to better understand potential climate risks and actively plan a response with facility owners and managers.

Topics: Sustainability & Resiliency