Snohomish County launches new tool to evaluate vulnerability to climate change, impacts to local communities

A screenshot of the Climate Vulnerability Tool. (Image courtesy Snohomish County)

Snohomish County is launching a new tool to evaluate local communities’ vulnerability to climate change impacts. The Climate Vulnerability Tool (CVT) is accompanied by a new resource hub – Snohomish County Prepares for a Changing Climate – that houses the CVT and aggregates existing climate change plans, policies, and programs for Snohomish County residents and businesses, the county said in a news release.

“As a government, Snohomish County is committed to exploring every possible avenue to address climate change,” said County Executive Dave Somers. “Our natural environment makes us the best place to live, work, and play. Without it, we wouldn’t have people from all over the world visiting, investing their resources, and bringing innovative ideas here. I encourage communities across Snohomish County to engage with these new tools to learn more about our climate vulnerabilities and what we can do together to adapt, change our behavior and mitigate the impacts of climate change.”

Addressing the impacts of climate change is an urgent issue for Snohomish County communities, the county said. As evidenced by the Bolt Creek Fire and recent flooding, the impacts of climate change are growing more acute for Snohomish County communities each year, particularly for those furthest from opportunity. Climate emergencies present immediate impacts to life, safety and property, but they also cause adverse long-term health effects.

“The impacts of climate change are becoming more critical every year,” said Snohomish County Council Chair Jared Mead (District 4). “Besides threats to life, safety and property, residents face negative impacts to health, including increased hospital visits for chronic conditions such as heart disease and asthma. The CVT allows people to better prepare themselves and their family members for extreme climate events and learn about available resources.”

With funding from the Washington State Department of Commerce, the county worked with consultants to develop a Climate Vulnerability Tool, which uses mid-century climate projections to help residents understand the risks they face from climate change. The CVT – embedded within Snohomish County Prepares for a Changing Climate – gives each Census block group in Snohomish County a Combined Vulnerability Score that represents an area’s vulnerability to climate change and all of its associated hazards, including wildfires, extreme heat and flooding. The average score in Snohomish County is 42 out of 100.

The vulnerability score is calculated from the average of three indicators:

– Adaptive Capacity Gap: The extent to which people, assets, or systems face barriers to adjusting to a hazard, taking advantage of new opportunities, or coping with change.

– Sensitivity: The degree to which a system, population, or resource is or might be affected by a climate change hazard.

– Exposure: Projected climate change impacts (days of extreme heat, frequency of storms, sea level rise, risk of wildfire) by mid-century.

Areas with vulnerability scores significantly higher than the county average include more rural areas of the county in and around Darrington, as well as areas around the I-5 corridor from South Snohomish County through Marysville. In addition to the combined score, a user can assess the more granular climate impacts to their area including exposure to hazards like wildfires or floods, sensitivity indicators like asthma prevalence, and adaptive capacity indicators like vehicle access.

In addition to the CVT, Snohomish County Prepares for a Changing Climate houses a selection of links to existing Snohomish County plans and programs that residents and businesses can engage with to help mitigate climate impacts. Examples include:

– Residents can apply for the Snohomish County Weatherization program, which provides free home energy improvements and conservation education to qualifying low-income households.

– Commercial property owners can apply for the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy and Resiliency (C-PACER) program, which is an innovative financing mechanism to help commercial, industrial, agricultural and multi-family buildings become more energy efficient and resilient.

– Communities can explore the Department of Emergency Management’s Hazard Viewer, to learn more about potential hazards where they live and work.

– Communities can help shape the 2024 Comprehensive Plan Update, which acts as the blueprint for development in the county and will impact neighborhoods, businesses, traffic, and the environment.

Snohomish County Prepares for a Changing Climate is intended to be an educational and action-oriented tool that will allow local governments, organizations, and individual residents to learn more about and act on climate change and its impacts locally, the county said. The tool will be central to upcoming efforts to expand climate change response in Snohomish County, including the development of a communitywide climate resiliency strategy.

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