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Outdated Government Rainfall Models Could Squander Billions in Federal Infrastructure Spending

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Biden's Infrastructure Bill Could be Wasted Due to Outdated Flood Model

The Problem with Atlas 14 Model

A new report from First Street Foundation warns that billions of dollars from the Biden administration's Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could be at risk because state infrastructure projects are using the Atlas 14 precipitation expectation model from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to determine future flood risks. Atlas 14 is an outdated model based on backward-looking data going as far back as the 1960s and does not consider the effects of global warming, which means that the current model projected future rainfall inaccurately.

The Dangers of Using Atlas 14 Model

The First Street report claims that adherence to Atlas 14 could be dangerous. There could be a wide discrepancy between the old model's prediction and the actual rainfall data, leading to significant infrastructure damage and losses. Founder and CEO of First Street Foundation, Matthew Eby, warns of wasted money because roads will flood, bridges will submerge, and other infrastructure damages are likely to occur because they were built to the wrong flood standard.

What's Being Done?

NOAA/National Weather Service officials acknowledge the issues with Atlas 14, and over $30 million was allocated to update the model to Atlas 15. The latest model considers the best available historical data and leverages outputs from various climate models. However, Atlas 15 will not be ready until 2026, by which time much of the damage would have been done.

How Climate Change Affects Flood Risk

The frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall have increased significantly across the United States due to global warming. With high temperatures resulting from climate change, the atmosphere can hold more water, leading to heavier and more frequent rainfall. According to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, heavy downpours increased by 71% in the Northeast, 37% in the Upper Midwest, and 27% in the Southeast from 1958 to 2012. This trend has led to an increase in flooding, and Atlas 14 does not take these changes into account.

The Way Forward

While states currently use Atlas 14 because it is readily available, several climate risk modeling firms have more up-to-date data and forecasts. These firms, however, may charge for the data. First Street Foundation, on the other hand, is willing to provide NOAA or any state with their flood model as a temporary measure until Atlas 15 is ready. Alternatively, they would provide their precipitation data to any state looking to adopt a more accurate and up-to-date model free of charge.
In light of the outdated flood model being used to assess future flood risks in state infrastructure projects, it is evident that current and future businesses must be aware of changes in the climate and adjust accordingly. This situation highlights the importance of accurate weather forecasting and risk assessment in any enterprise that requires infrastructure development. Failure to take into account the impact of climate change on weather patterns and the resulting effects on infrastructure can result in wasted time, resources, and money. Therefore, businesses must work with companies like First Street Foundation and several climate risk modeling firms to ensure that they have up-to-date data to make informed decisions regarding their designs, construction projects, and risk assessment.

It is also crucial that businesses focus on strategies that adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change on their operations. For instance, companies can invest in green technology and sustainable practices that help fight climate change. Businesses must consider the new reality of increased weather volatility in their risk assessments and alter their plans as needed to mitigate risks. Overall, companies must be proactive and adjust proactively as they anticipate future weather conditions to become more uncertain and volatile. By doing so, they can protect themselves from the negative impacts of climate change and continue to thrive in our changing world.

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