A new report by a coalition of local governments looks at the threats of climate change in the Triangle, establishes which areas are most at risk, and recommends ways to make those communities more resilient in the face of higher temperatures, heavier rain events, and increased flooding.
The Resilience Assessment was released Friday by the Triangle J Council of Governments, following a year-long collaboration between Cary, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Durham, Durham County, and Orange County.
“The goal of resilience is more than simply ‘bouncing back’ after an event—the idea is to ‘bounce forward’ to a place where the community will be better able to withstand a future event,” the report reads.
One such event, Hurricane Florence, came as the report was being finalized. The September storm dropped an estimated eighteen trillion gallons of water on the state, causing intense flooding and killing thirty-six people. While the Triangle dodged the worst of the storm, “Hurricane Florence underlined the need for this Assessment and this Partnership,” the report reads.
The assessment is meant to serve as a starting point for local governments in future planning decisions and for the region ‘to build a resilient, climate-ready place to live, work, and thrive.’”
The report looks at climate-related threats such as drought, heavy precipitation, and heat waves, and analyzes how vulnerable homes, businesses, utilities, agriculture, and other assets are to them. It also takes into account non-climate-related stressors, like sprawling impervious surfaces that can foment runoff, flooding, and isolated heat, as well as a population that grew by more than 250 percent from 1970 to 2016.
As the report points out, the Triangle is already experiencing extreme rain events as well as more intense drought conditions.
Census tracts rated as having the highest vulnerability to flooding include East Durham, areas around Croasdaile and Ellerbe Creek in Northwest Durham, areas around Crabtree Creek north of downtown Raleigh, and parts of Southeast Orange County. About thirty-two hundred residential properties are considered to be at medium or high risk of flooding. The impacts of flooding on road access are more widespread, and could lead to more than thirty thousand properties becoming inaccessible to residents and emergency vehicles, the report says.
More residential properties—23,285, particularly west of Chapel Hill and in the southern- and easternmost parts of Wake County—were rated at medium or high vulnerability for wildfires amid increasing temperatures and drought conditions, meaning they are at risk of fire and are more than an eight-minute drive from a fire station.
Communities most vulnerable to extreme heat are largely concentrated in downtown areas. Raleigh is already experiencing a higher-than-normal number of over-ninety-two-degree days, with a record of forty-eight in 2010, the report says.
In response, the report recommends a “regional outreach and communication plan for all threats,” transitioning public fleets away from fossil fuels, regional fire station coordination, further assessment of flooding potential, a stream-monitoring system to alert officials about rising water levels, incentives to develop green infrastructure, design standards that reduce heat absorption, and planting more trees.
Contact staff writer Sarah Willets by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 919-286-1972, or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.