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Hoosier Resilience Index provides data for how climate change will affect Indiana



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Janet McCabe, director of the Environmental Resilience Institute, helped launch the Hoosier Resilience Index to display how climate change will affect Indiana in the future. Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

The Environmental Resilience Institute launched the Hoosier Resilience Index on Nov. 12 to display how climate change will affect Indiana in the future.

Janet McCabe, director of the Environmental Resilience Institute, said the HRI was created to help local governments prepare for climate change.

“We see local governments as key,” McCabe said. “I refer to them as change agents. Mayors and their staff are the people who people in their communities look to when there’s flooding, when there’s public health issues, when there are emergencies.”

There are two parts to the HRI. The first is the Climate Vulnerability, which is available to anyone. It provides data on how climate change will affect each county and town of Indiana.

The second part of the HRI is the Readiness Assessment, which is geared toward local governments. The assessment is tailored to each individual community to help them understand the risks they face because of climate change.

Andrea Webster, implementation manager for the Environmental Resilience Institute, said the Readiness Assessment is a key part of the HRI. It was designed based on the needs of local governments, she said.

“My colleague and I started traveling around the state and meeting with mayors and county commissioners and their staff,” Webster said. “We talked about what the barriers were to them preparing for climate change.”

The two main areas the HRI focuses on are extreme heat and extreme precipitation. 

Tristan Jackson Buy Photos

The HRI provides data on the current situation of Bloomington and estimates for a medium emissions scenario or a high emissions scenario in the 2050s. A medium emissions scenario would occur if countries were able to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Extreme heat is defined as days with highs of 90 degrees or more and nights with lows of 68 degrees or more. 

Currently, Bloomington experiences 37 days with high heat events per year. The HRI estimates in the 2050s this number will rise to 86 days per year with a medium emissions scenario, and 99 days per year with a high emissions scenario.

Under this estimate, about a fourth of the year would have days with temperatures higher than 90 degrees.

“This isn’t an exact prediction,” McCabe said. “It’s a projection. It could be more than that or it could be less than that. Hopefully people will be doing things to reduce greenhouse gases so we’ll be on the lower end of that number.”

Marcia Veldman, the farmer’s market coordinator for the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department, said this year’s weather has been a perfect example of how the models predict climate change.

Even with the medium emissions scenario, McCabe said the increase in heat will have a large effect on people’s lives. Electric bills will increase as people use more air conditioning, which could also lead to power failures. Infrastructure such asthe streets will be affected. 

The warmer climate will also change the plant and animal species of Indiana.

April Byrne, the Environmental Quality and Land Use intern for Sustain IU, said a tree analysis performed every three years on campus is already showing the decline in certain species due to climate change.

The 2016 tree analysis found 117 Blue Spruce trees, typically a more northern species, growing on campus. 93% of these trees were in good health, a higher percentage than the overall health conditions for trees on campus in that year, which placed 76% in good condition.

The 2019 tree analysis found 73 Blue Spruces, a 44 -tree difference from three years prior. Only 54% of these trees were in good health.

Southern species of trees like the Flowering Dogwood and Sweet Gum are increasing in number and are averaging 86% good condition, Byrne said.

Byrne said the climate of Indiana is becoming more like that of a southern state.

The change in climate is expected to bring new species to the Midwest and cause others to leave seeking cooler weather. Webster said she has heard reports of armadillos in Indiana.

“Species habitats are changing across the entire United States and that will impact Indiana,” Webster said.

Veldman said the Parks Department expects the composition of the forests they manage to change as a result of climate change.

Extreme precipitation, the other major part of the HRI, is defined as days when daily precipitation is two inches or greater. 

McCabe said street flooding starts to occur after that point. 

Bloomington currently has 19 days of extreme precipitation per decade, according to the HRI. The estimate for the 2050s is 22 days per decade with a medium emissions scenario and 23 days per decade with a high emissions scenario. 

The HRI also shows the distribution of land in the floodplain. 73% percent of the land in Bloomington’s floodplain is developed land.

“If you have a lot of developed land within that floodplain, then there’s a lot more at risk because of housing and hospitals,” McCabe said.

Webster said communities with lots of developed land in the floodplain will experience financial setbacks when they’re hit by a flood.

Both extreme heat and extreme precipitation increase the likelihood of public health issues, Webster said.

Webster said she hopes the HRI raises awareness and access to information about climate change in Indiana.

“I think sometimes Indiana gets the reputation of not being aware of what’s happening with climate change or not acting, and the fact is that there are quite a few cities across the state that are taking steps or getting more educated about climate change,” McCabe said.

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