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Online tools for local climate projections

Looking for insights on the climate change that’s expected in your community? 

It can be confusing with so many online tools available for viewing projections on your local climate change. Our team selected the following three online tools as a good starting point for most communities. They each provide the ability to create a quick snapshot or the option to to develop a summary or in-depth report of several variables that are relevant to your location. 

Pros & Cons: Climate Explorer and CMRA have prettier graphics and interface, but output variables are limited. The two tools can be used together for a more comprehensive approach. Climate Toolbox, on the other hand, is more customizable and has a more comprehensive suite of output variables yet is harder to navigate by the user.

Before you begin

Before using any tool, gather some basic information about your project. First, the spatial extent. What is the area you are concerned about? Is it a city, county, census tract, watershed, or some other boundary?  Second, consider which assumptions about future emissions are helpful. For example, while the global community is on a “business-as-usual” trajectory for emissions, what happens if we reduce emissions drastically?

Finally, consider which variables are important to your community and how to best share them (maps, charts, graphs, tables, etc.). Include annual and seasonal averages and the overall range, as well as thresholds. Thresholds often affect how people live and work on a daily basis, as well as the viability of species and ecosystem function. For example, the number of days above 90F, days below freezing, or days with more than 2″ precipitation.

An important note about data. It is important to show both past and future trends. Look at how the climate changed over the last 50-100 years (based on observed/historical data) and how it is expected to change in the future (based on climate model projections). In our experience, many audiences are more open to learning about future projections when they see that the local climate is already changing. Each of the tools below provides detailed information about about where the data sources come from. 

Climate Mapping for Resilience and Adaptation (CMRA) 

A screenshot of the CMRA toolThe Climate Mapping for Resilience and Adaptation Assessment Tool has a wide range of climate hazards (26) to select from, distributed across 5 tabs. You can select from a county, census tract or tribal lands for the scale of your projections. And it offers options to view the information as a map, bar graph or table. However, there are limited export capabilities. For example, the “Complete Report” option includes a fixed set of variables in a fixed PDF format.  But the online graphics are nicely done and you can take a screenshot for use in other documents.  

Climate Explorer 

A screenshot of the Climate Explorer toolThe Climate Explorer provides several options for downloading a selected graph or map, so is more useful for developing a report and it has more options for selecting the timescale (monthly or annual), and has 19 variables available. But be aware that the Climate Explorer is only at the county-level. Especially if your community is within a very geographically diverse county, this aggregated data may not accurately reflect your local situation. 

Climate Toolbox

A screenshot of the Climate Toolbox toolThe Climate Toolbox, as its name implies, is a collection of several tools. It is the most flexible with far more variables than the other 2 options and has more options for local scale (watershed, city, county for example) and for downloading either the data or the image. However, it’s more technical and takes more time to navigate and learn.  

projections, tools