North Carolina Sea Grant
Coastwatch Currents

Coastwatch Currents

August 26, 2014 | Jessica Whitehead

I hate to admit that the raised eyebrow is one of the reactions I get when I hand out my business card. I’ve realized it’s because “hazards adaptation” isn’t out there in common public vocabulary yet.

So let’s break it down: Hazards. Adaptation.

A hazard can be any risk. Given my training, I focus on coastal weather and climate rather than nuclear accidents or earthquakes. According to the National Climate Assessment, an adaptation is an “action to prepare for and adjust to new conditions, thereby reducing harm or taking advantage of new opportunities.”

So, elevating a house or a road an extra foot or two above the minimum base elevation to reduce flood damage? Such adaptations not only reduce harm from storm surges, but also from higher likelihoods of floods from whatever cause (heavier rainfalls, altered development patterns changing stormwater drainage, etc.), or from long-term sea-level rise.

There are also more subtle, less costly types of adaptations. For example, I’m hoping to close on a house in a few weeks. One of my first projects will be installing a rain barrel to take advantage of these gully-washing storms we’ve had lately. I hope to store water for when the dry times inevitably return.

Other adaptations that help you build your capacity to deal with future hazards, such as using weather and climate information to improve how you run your business. Can’t think of how that might be useful? If you spend any time around children, you may have been seen Disney’s animated film Frozen, in which Queen Elsa accidentally freezes her kingdom in the middle of summer. The film features a look inside Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post. The sudden weather shift has put the proprietor in the position of having an unplanned “Big summer blowout!” and leaves his winter stock woefully unable to meet demand.

Certainly, a weather or climate model can’t reasonably include calculations for enchanted ice queens, but there ARE seasonal forecasts that might be useful. Fishermen may need to plan for droughts that affect blue crabs, or coastal businesses may want to understand climate risks and minimize potential supply chain disruptions.

Jess Whitehead leads a discussion in Hyde County.

Jess Whitehead is very good at facilitating discussions about hazards adaptation. She is very awful at singing. Photo by Rhett Register.

Bottom line, I consider a very broad range of adaptations in my work. Recently, I facilitated a meeting in Hyde County using the Vulnerability, Consequences, and Adaptation Planning Scenario Process (VCAPS) to talk about potential flooding adaptations. This week, I’m with invited North Carolina community representatives visiting Beaufort County, S.C., to learn how they’re using VCAPS results to explore feasible adaptation options for sea-level rise over the next 30 to 50 years.

I’m also interested in other, subtle types of actions that help coastal communities and businesses. If you have ideas about how that mountain of hazard information could work for you, I’m always happy to guide you on your journey!

Just don’t ask me to sing.

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