Planning for extreme climate events in Southeast Alaska

Residents of Southeast Alaska are used to lots of rain and snow. Although precipitation varies greatly across the region, less than 30 inches of precipitation a year is highly unusual. As the climate changes, however, the region has experienced hotter and drier conditions, as well as other unusual weather events. Extreme heat and drought conditions occurred between 2016 and 2019, creating stress on infrastructure and natural systems. While drought conditions ended in 2019, extreme wind, rain and snow events continue to impact coastal communities in this region. 

stumps and roots on the shoreline
Photo by Jeremy Bynum.

The Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP), a NOAA funded program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks International Arctic Research Center, hosted a workshop at the end of March to address these events. Alaska Sea Grant’s Coastal Community Resilience Specialist, Davin Holen, led the effort, together with representatives from ACCAP, Alaska EPSCoR, the Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center, University of Alaska Southeast, National Weather Service Juneau, The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes, and the Northern Latitudes Partnership.

The goal of the March 2022 workshop was to build on the foundation of knowledge and information gained since 2019 and to assist with the development of community-driven adaptation strategies that serve the specific needs, challenges and opportunities of remote communities. The workshop covered topics including weather and climate, streams and salmon, freshwater and marine environments, the forest environment, and socioeconomics. Participants learned about recent research and decision support tools relevant to their adaptation planning needs. Ultimately, the workshop sought to create a list of specific adaptation strategies communities can implement.

A final workshop report summarizing the resources and tools available and appropriate for adaptation planning in Southeast Alaska will be released later this year. The report will also include recommendations for future products and research. It will be available on the ACCAP website, through the Northwest Climate Hub, the Southeast Sustainable Partnership, and on the collaborative Adapt Alaska website hosted by Alaska Sea Grant. 

Holen noted, “The workshop provided the chance to come together as a community in conversations that will lead to further collaborations among researchers, agencies, tribes, and community entities. By bringing together a wide variety of stakeholders in Southeast Alaska to develop adaptation strategies, we are able to harness a diversity of thought, knowledge, and experience to develop solutions that will have local applicability and support, and thus will be more likely to succeed.”