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Updating Precipitation Forecasts for Flooding Events

Frederick, Maryland

Featured image for the project, Updating Precipitation Forecasts for Flooding Events

Image courtesy of Frederick County Office of Economic Development

Description

Frederick (City), Maryland is part of the Baltimore–Washington Metropolitan Area. Frederick has long been an important crossroads, located at the intersection of a major north–south Indian trail and east–west routes to the Chesapeake Bay, both at Baltimore and what became Washington, D.C. and across the Appalachian mountains to the Ohio River watershed (Overview History of Frederick). Today, Frederick is the second largest city in the state, and the fastest growing area in the region. The population is expected to grow from 65,239 to 76,625 people by 2023, a 17% increase since the 2010 census.

Climate change — in particular precipitation frequency and  intensity — is also impacting Frederick. Scientists predict wetter weather from more intense and frequent storms and an increase in flooding events. The change in climate coupled with increasing population puts more people, more infrastructure and services at risk in this region.

Precipitation models — often based on 20-year-old or older data (NOAA Atlas 14, Volume 2) — are no longer accurate as evidenced by the recent storms. Property owners within the City of Frederick have recently experienced substantial flooding during larger storm events. In May 2018 stormwater infrastructure was overwhelmed resulting in significant damages. Much of the development within the areas of the City that were flooded occurred prior to the enactment of modern stormwater management regulations. In addition, runoff generated from impervious surfaces during intense storm events has the potential to overwhelm existing infrastructure causing flooding resulting in loss of property and potentially, injury or loss of life. The city government and members of the public are keen to increase flood resiliency. This effort will require updated precipitation data  and a strategy for information exchange to aid decision-making and flood management.

The Project

As climate scientists project an increase in frequency and intensity of flooding events in Maryland due to climate change, government officials, city staff, homeowners, businesses and members of the public seek updated precipitation forecasts and predictions tools for different precipitation scenarios. Beyond the data, “digestible” information about climate, storm predictions, flooding, and flood resilience will help the public make informed decisions, navigate precipitation events and recover more quickly when flooding occurs.

The Frederick City and County staff identified its priority for this Thriving Earth Exchange as updated precipitation forecasts/models/maps and other prediction tools for flooding events. A future The plan is to use this information in conjunction with USACE deliverables for a more comprehensive understanding of flooding events:

  • to inform government officials and municipal decision-makers about flood risk and local vulnerability
  • to educate members of the public on climate change and local precipitation scenarios
  • to help the public assess their own flood risk vulnerability to flooding
  • to encourage the public to better prepare for flooding events

 

With updated data, precipitation forecasts and flood models in hand, the City can both tackle bigger infrastructure projects and plan strategies plus implementation for flood resiliency at a smaller scale.

 

Project Outputs:

  • Updated precipitation tools, forecasts or models for Frederick City, MD
  • Updated maps regarding urban flood risk (e.g., flooding risk outside existing FEMA mapped riverine flood zones). NOTE: some municipalities are moving to 500-year storm maps for planning, see org

Results

Project Title: Improving Precipitation Forecasting and Flood Resilience in Frederick, MD

Location: Frederick, Maryland

The Team: Jennifer Williams, City of Maryland, [email protected]; Rebekah May, Maryland County, [email protected]

 

The Initial Challenge:

Property owners within the City of Frederick have recently experienced substantial flooding during larger storm events. In May 2018 stormwater infrastructure was overwhelmed resulting in significant damages. Much of the development within the areas of the City that were flooded occurred prior to the enactment of modern stormwater management regulations. In addition, runoff generated from impervious surfaces during intense storm events has the potential to overwhelm existing infrastructure causing flooding resulting in loss of property and potentially, injury or loss of life. Precipitation models — often based on 20-year-old or older data (NOAA Atlas 14, Volume 2) — are no longer accurate as evidenced by the recent storms.

As climate scientists project an increase in frequency and intensity of flooding events in Maryland due to climate change, government officials, city staff, homeowners, businesses and members of the public seek updated precipitation forecasts and predictions tools for different precipitation scenarios.  Beyond stormwater projections, the community would benefit from “digestible” information about climate, storm predictions, flooding, and flood resilience to help make informed decisions, navigate precipitation events and recover more quickly when flooding occurs.

 

The Methods

What methodology did you use to produce the project outcome(s) to address the community challenge?

The Frederick project team collaborated with Drexel University engineering students to investigate stormwater planning in the era of climate change (with Professor Franco Montalto). Students first analyzed climate change scenarios and implications for stormwater management by downscaling historical modeled climate data and adjusting storm rainfall depths and hydrologic site parameters. Students then formulated hydrologic models to project 1-, 10- and 100-year storms in years 2020-2080.

 

What resources, tools, data, or other inputs did you need to complete the project, and how did you get these inputs?

The Drexel team established baseline precipitation information via “The Climate Explorer” and available gauge data for the period of 1971-2020. They employed statistical downscaling of global climate models (GCMs) to determine the future effects of greenhouse emissions via the online MACA tool. They also used current rainfall depths through NOAA Atlas 14, multiplied by the delta change factor, to project rainfall depths associated with future storm scenarios.

 

How often did the project team meet, and what was the overall time commitment involved?

After initial project scoping, the team met once per month. There were additional meetings with the Drexel students over the summer semester (6 additional hours). The overall time commitment from the TEX fellow was approximately 120 hours.

 

The Results

OUTPUTS: What did you build or deliver through this project?

 

 IMPACT: What was the impact of the project? Who is better off and how are they better off? Did your outputs inform decision-making, policy changes or actions taken by community members?

  • Brought together Drexel faculty and staff, the Consortium for Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast (CCRUN), the Urban Climate Change Research Network – North American Hub, and Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Water Resources Program members for collaboration on regional efforts
  • Provided precipitation projection data and models to Frederick, Maryland decision-makers (City and County) to inform sustainability conversations and stormwater planning efforts.
  • Provided documentation to help inform Frederick County, MD sustainability staff on potential stormwater impacts due to climate change
  • Supported and solidified relationships between Frederick City and County staff members who will continue to meet into the future
  • Provided a powerful jumping off point to put additional emphasis on sustainable planning. The results have been discussed internally with several departments that are more directly impacted by precipitation changes. There was interest in repeating climate change projection exercises in the future to compare results.

 

How might other people use the outputs, impacts or lessons from this project?

By sharing this report with state-level decision makers, there is an opportunity to convene conversations about updating Maryland data for future precipitation events (local municipalities are required to use state standards). At the municipal and county levels, the project’s ideas can provide a framework to talk about stormwater planning, climate change, and flood resiliency across departments, among municipalities, and in collaboration with community stakeholders.

 

Reflections

List 1-3 things that contributed to your success.

  • Consistent face-to-face meetings (Zoom) and email communication with the team (even when you do not have much to report)
  • Collaboration with other TEX fellows
  • Accountability, expectations, and mentorship by TEX staff

 

List 1-3 things you might do differently if you were to do it over again.

  • Research content of project to gain a deeper understanding of the problem (precipitation modeling is complex and highly regulated)
  • Normalize use video for virtual meetings
  • Identify and invite community/municipality’s communications person to join the team from the start of the project

 

Can you provide some advice for people pursuing similar community science projects?

If you do not understand the content, find resources to deepen your understanding and vocabulary as soon as possible. Create, nurture, and participate in smaller TEX cohorts of similar-topic projects (this was incredibly helpful). Use your fellow fellows! They can share a wealth of information, rich networks, and incredible experience.

Project Team

Community Leads

Jennifer Williams is a Project Engineer for Stormwater Management with the City of Frederick. She will serve as the main point of contact for the project on behalf of the City.  While this project is focused on the City of Frederick, it will potentially serve as a model for other municipalities in Frederick County.

Rebekah May is an Emergency Management Planner with Frederick County. She will serve as the main point of contact for the project on behalf of the County.

 

Community Scientist

Franco Montalto directs the Sustainable Water Resource Engineering Laboratory in Drexel’s College of Engineering and he also serves as the director for the Northeast hub of the Urban Climate Change Research Network. He is an civil/environmental engineer and hydrologist with a background in applied and theoretical approaches to solving complex environmental problems. His research focuses on the development of ecologically, economically and socially sensible solutions to urban environmental problems with a focus on sustainable water resource engineering.

He has more than 20 years of experience in eco-hydrological research, planning and design projects. Some of them include the restoration of wetlands, the use of constructed wetlands for wastewater and stormwater treatment, construction of green infrastructure and creating low-impact development technologies.

Community Science Fellow

Shelly Strom studied science communication and landscape architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has lived in Madison for most of her life. She has also lived in Trinidad and Tobago, Singapore, New Zealand and France. Her lifelong goal is to foster connections of people, place, knowledge and wisdom. She is an observer by nature and passionate about trees and bumblebees.

 

Collaborating Organization(s)