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Washington, District of Columbia

Category: Uncategorized

DCskyline_370x200Photo Courtesy of: Kate Johnson, District Department of the Environment

The Challenge

As the capital of the United States, the District of Columbia grapples with human-induced and natural threats ranging from counter-terrorism to hurricanes. The U.S. Global Change Research Program reports that average temperatures are already increasing in the District, along with the frequency of extreme heat, storms, and heavy rain events. Thanks to the urban heat island effect, the District experiences summertime temperatures that are nearly 5° higher on average than surrounding areas. Through collaborations with scientists, the District studied the potential health benefits of reducing the urban heat island and found that strategies like installing cool roofs and pavements, green roofs and shade trees could substantially reduce heat-related mortality. As the first step in developing a citywide climate adaptation plan, the District recently developed downscaled climate change projections for the city. The projections show a significant increase in the number of dangerously hot days and longer and more frequent heatwaves in the coming decades – underscoring the need to address heat and potential impacts to public health.

The District has a robust heat emergency plan that is activated whenever actual temperatures of the heat index reaches 95°F. However, while this solution helps respond to extreme heat events, it does not address how the District could leverage its built environment to help mitigate extreme heat risks over the long-term. Therefore, DC’s Climate Programs Analyst for the District’s Department of the Environment, Kate Johnson, would like additional ideas for what the District can do to substantially address extreme heat the city will continue to face over time. These ideas will help the District move towards sustainable solutions to combat heat extremes, and to incorporate those solutions into their climate adaptation planning.

A Scientific Partner

Kate has identified two scientific partners to present DC with feasible options for how the city can further mitigate extreme heat. In addition to providing substantive options, the scientific partner(s) will be able to provide ways that the city can get started on them.

Required Skills

• A broad understanding of heat and heat extremes, preferably in the Mid-Atlantic region.
• Skill representing climate science, climate impacts, and sustainability design to city leaders and the public in a variety of settings.
• Ability to operate effectively in environments where science is not the only factor, and often not even the leading factor, in decision making.
• An impressive academic or professional resume.
• Ability to interact well with District’s current and new resilience partners, including local and Federal agencies, such as the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency and Department of Health.
• Ability to develop guides or considerations for heat-resistant building and development.
• Ability to explain things clearly and in every-day language.
• Ability to interact remotely or in-person in Washington, DC.
• Ability to interact well with a diverse group of stakeholders and respect community input and participation.


The Collaborators

D.C. Department of Energy & Environment Climate Program Analyst


Kate Johnson is a Climate Program Analyst for the District of Columbia Department of Energy & Environment. She manages the District’s efforts to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and is currently leading the development of a citywide climate resilience plan to help the District prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The TEX Liaisons



Olga “Olya” Wilhelmi is a geographer with the National Center for Atmospheric Research whose research interests focus on interactions among weather, climate and society across scales, with the main emphasis on understanding societal risk, vulnerability and adaptive capacity to extreme weather events and climate change. She is a project scientist in the Research Application Laboratory and is the head of NCAR’s Geographic Information Science Program.



Juan Declet-Barreto is a Fellow in the Climate and Clean Air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, DC. Juan has a Masters in Geography and a PhD in Environmental Social Sciences from Arizona State University. He has extensive expertise in the social, ecological, and human health dimensions of climate change impacts, and has developed a research program centered on an interdisciplinary approach to researching human vulnerability to climate change. [/ezcol_1half_end]

 Project Update

TEX and ICLEI partner city, Washington, D.C., are interested in understanding how extreme heat might be mitigated as part of the city’s first climate adaptation plan. The city began mapping heat vulnerability with a team of climate scientists. The timing of the collaboration with TEX is ideal due to current drafting of the adaptation plan.
On October 26th, during their first in-person meeting, selected scientists Juan Declet-Barreto and Olga Wilhelmi, had several questions and comprehensive input for Kate Johnson, the Climate Program Analyst for the District of Columbia Department of Energy & Environment. Juan mentioned that one significant project component could include a focus on serving people in vulnerable communities and determining if current heat mitigation plans are actually helping people in DC communities. Olga mentioned the importance of the heat-energy nexus, and highlighted that additional information on adaptive capacity would help make assessments more accurate.
Next steps include completion of an inventory of measurable heat indicators in DC by the team. Further, Juan and Olga will send short summaries of their work and provide clarity around ideas brought up at the meeting. Kate will note the factors that the city already tracks. To assist the team in organizing and sharing their collaborative work, TEX has set up a Google Drive shared folder.
Eventual project outcomes include input into developing the adaptation plan, and potential additional resources for agencies or private stakeholders in parallel to the plan. The first draft of the adaptation plan is expected by the end of calendar year 2015 followed by revisions in early 2016. A second meeting to review the inventory and discuss next steps is scheduled to occur in mid-November 2015.

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