"Power to Prepare Tucson" Summit: Faced with more Extreme Weather, Citizens Engage in City's Climate Preparedness Efforts

Note: Materials from the Tucson summit, including Powerpoint presentations, are listed in the Online Resources section below.

On Saturday the City of Tucson, Arizona, is bringing its citizens together to discuss the challenges climate change poses for the city and the opportunities to respond. "As an Arizonan and former Governor, I’m proud to see the City of Tucson take up the challenge to prepare for these serious changes and work with the public on solutions,"says former Arizona Governor, Bruce Babbitt in an op-ed in The Arizona Daily Star.  "These are big challenges, but they are ones we can overcome...The first step is to look the problem square in the eye, rather than bury our heads in the sand; the second is to prepare for the impacts." (see his full op-ed, Tucson Equipped to Offer Solutions in an Era of Extremes, 29 March 2012)

Tucson, Arizona, is both an example of how cities are being affected by changing weather patterns; and how city officials are preparing with their citizens for the future. 

Changing Weather Patterns

The southwest is rapidly warming and southeast Arizona is no exception.  The figure below, for example, shows that summer temperatures have risen since 1895 and have remained above the 20th century average for every summer during this century.

Above:  Average Summer Temperatures in Southern Arizona, 1895-2011 .  Source: WestMap.  

At the same time, hot days are becoming more common and more extreme. The average annual number of 100+ degree days (62 days) in Tucson from 1981-2010 was 55% higher than from 1951-1980 (40 days).  And last year, Tucson suffered through seventy 100+ degree days. 

The high temperatures have contributed to persistent drought since the turn of the century.  In 2011, Tucson experienced its 2nd driest January-June period on record.  As of 20 March 2012, over 60% of the state was in severe to extreme drought -- and another third of the state was in moderate drought. 

Among the consequences of drought and high temperatures in 2011 was the nearly 540,000 acre Wallow Fire, the largest wildfire in Arizona history.  Estimated suppression costs were $109 million -- an amount that is only a fraction of the total costs of the fire, which range from property losses to lost revenues.

Above: Wallow Fire, Arizona, 18 June 2011. Source: Jayson Coil

Above normal temperatures and dry conditions also have dominated the Colorado River Basin for more than a decade.  Lake Mead, fed by the Colorado river and a primary source of Tucson’s water, is only 56% full.  The longer-term outlook is not encouraging, as many studies indicate that runoff to the Colorado River system is likely to decline as climate continues to change; furthermore, evaporation from Lake Mead will increase as temperatures rise.

Above: Lake Mead, 7 September 2008, with water levels well below capacity after declining since 2000. Source: Raquel Baranow.

Since the middle of the 20th century, a growing portion of the rain falling in the Southwest is coming in intense downpours. After more than 8 months of heat and drought in 2011, Tucson experienced the wettest September on record, including the 5th wettest day of all time for the city on 15 September. Such torrential downpours are contributing to more frequent and severe urban flooding.

Above:  Flooded streets in Tucson, Arizona, 22 September 2010.   Source: Raquel Baranow

"The Power to Prepare Tucson" Summit

In preparation for anticipated climate conditions, Tucson’s Office of Conservation and Sustainable Development, in collaboration with the University of Arizona recently completed a report addressing climate impacts on the City of Tucson. On Saturday (31 March 2012), city officials will convene its citizens to discuss the report in a “Power to Prepare Tucson” Summit (see one-pager [PDF]). About 200 participants representing a cross-section of the city will participate in what the city calls “a unique opportunity to learn how climate change may impact you and your community, while collaborating on priorities and solutions for addressing these vulnerabilities.”  The forum will use an innovative approach to community engagement developed by AmericaSpeaks  (see see video).

See Bruce Babbitt  in the video below talking about the threat climate change poses for the region and the positive steps the city is taking.

Bruce Babbitt on Earth Hour City Challenge from WWF-US on Vimeo.

See also Bruce Babbitt's op-ed in The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson Equipped to Offer Solutions in an Era of Extremes, 29 March 2012.

WWF to Launch Earth Hour City Challenge

Also in Tucson on Saturday, WWF will launch the multi-year Earth Hour City Challenge, an initiative encouraging other cities to hold public events like the one in Tucson to discuss climate impacts, vulnerability and preparedness. The challenge is a competition among cities to prepare for increasingly extreme weather while taking steps to shift towards a 100% renewable energy future.

Participating cities that implement the most ambitious actions and engage their citizens will receive public recognition for their leadership and be eligible to win grants. The Earth Hour City Challenge Web site includes an interactive map which helps visitors sent a letter to their city officials expressing concerns about the impacts of changing weather patterns on their city and calling on them to improve climate preparedness and to take on the Earth Hour City Challenge. 

Online Resources

Thank Tucson Officials for Preparing for Climate Change.  Send a letter to Mayor Rothschild and the City Council thanking them for hosting the summit and engaging residents in how best to protect the community from increasingly extreme weather and other consequences of climate change.

Materials from the Tucson summit:

Tucson Equipped to Offer Solutions in an Era of Extremes.  By former Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt in The Arizona Daily Star, 29 March 2012.

City of Tucson, Office of Conservation and Sustainable Development

AmericaSpeaks:  See especially this video about the process used by AmericaSpeaks

WWF Earth Hour City Challenge: EarthHourCities.org

WWF Climate Change Blog:

Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States: A Technical Report Prepared for the U.S. National Climate Assessment.  Draft report by the Southwest Climate Alliance.  The SWCA welcomes comments through 11:59 PM (PDT) April 11, 2012.  The Southwest region icovers six states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.

Southwest Climate Outlook (Mar 2012).  From Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS). 

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