Preparing for Climate Change: Using Hydrology Models and Census Data to Map Vulnerable Communities

Kernersville, North Carolina, USA

This talk is being given by me and Kelly M. Suttles.


Global climate models project an increase in the frequency and magnitude of storm events in the Southeastern United States in the next several decades. Additionally, urban development in this region is expected to double by 2060 and this growth will likely intensify discrepancies between water supply and demand. Communities unable to prepare for climate-induced changes in water resources may experience adverse social and economic impacts. Given the likely impacts of climate and land use change on water resources, there is a need to (1) develop hydrological models capable of predicting watershed-scale impacts of climate change on water resources in North Carolina, (2) combine hydrological model outputs with demographics data to map communities especially vulnerable to future flooding, and (3) use this information to inform flooding preparedness efforts. We use the Soil Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to estimate baseline (1982-2002) and future (2050-2070) stream discharge under four climate change scenarios for the Upper Yadkin-Pee Dee Watershed in North Carolina. We then couple SWAT streamflow outputs with social vulnerability index (SoVI) estimates derived from 2010-2014 American Community Survey data. By combining hydrological model outputs and demographics data, we gain insights into how climate change preparedness efforts may serve vulnerable communities.

Learning Objectives:

  • Describe the application of hydrological models such as the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to climate change assessments
  • Summarize future climate change impacts for the Upper Yadkin-Pee Dee Watershed region
  • Illustrate how census data and hydrology models can be combined to map vulnerable communities and inform climate change preparedness efforts
sheila m. saia, PhD
Postdoctoral Researcher