The Climate Quandary

The Climate Quandary

Change in the weather is inevitable in the 21st century. Here’s how you and your stores can be prepared for it.
Throughout the 20th century there have been drastic climate variations and changes. These fluxes include considerable warming, rises in precipitation, decade-long droughts and decreases in snow cover. The next century promises an even more rapidly shifting climate, and adaptation is going to be vital in your property’s survival.

Because variables such as future trends in fossil fuel use are indefinite, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has developed a set of scenarios for how the 21st century may evolve. The IPCC states that “these scenarios consider a wide range of possibilities for changes in population, economic growth, technological development, improvements in energy efficiency, and the like.” So, although they are not infallible, they can offer a realistic glimpse at what the climate might be like in the future.

21st Century Predictions

1. Increased Warming
Assuming continued growth in world greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures in the United States will rise 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit on average in the next 100 years.

2. Differing Regional Impacts
Climate change is expected to vary across the nation. Heavy and extreme precipitation events are likely to become more frequent, yet some regions will experience drier conditions. Temperature increases will differ somewhat from one region to the next.

3. Widespread Water Concerns
Water is an issue in every region, but the nature of the vulnerabilities varies. Drought is an important concern in many regions; flood and water quality are concerns in others. Snowpack changes are especially important in the West, Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

4. Increased Damage in Coastal and Permafrost Areas
Climate change and the resulting rise in sea level are likely to exacerbate threats to buildings, roads, powerlines and other infrastructure in climatically sensitive places. For example, infrastructure damage is related to permafrost melting in Alaska, and to sea-level rise and storm surge in low-lying coastal areas.

Optimizing Change
Adaptation measures can, in many cases, reduce the magnitude of harmful impacts, or take advantage of beneficial effects. For example, the 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit average rise in temperature in the United States is estimated to be even higher than the global estimated increase. It is probable that this rise will mean more intense precipitation and a more rapid evaporation of water; leading to an increased incidence of both very wet and very dry conditions, making it a large factor in your curb appeal. Reacting appropriately to this situation will be central to maintaining your perfect green this summer. Your irrigation systems will need to be checked for broken heads that need replacing, and broken or damaged PVC piping. Placement and frequency of the system may also need to be reconsidered in light of the extreme precipitation variations. Another greencare concern will be your landscaping. Plants may need more mulch or ground cover to retain water in the heat. Like every summer, replanting foliage that did not survive the season is important, but this year heartier replacements may need to be considered.

Parking lots, buildings and other long-lived infrastructure maintenance can also be planned while taking projected climate changes into account. The continued thawing of permafrost and Alaskan sea ice is likely to cause further damage to certain aesthetically and safety-crucial fixtures of your business if precautions are not taken. The combination of thawing snowcaps, more frequent and ranging temperature changes, and rainfall quantities will make for higher water tables — which could yield a parking lot full of pot holes and blisters. To avoid such problems, consistent surveillance and quick reactions are critical. In this case, a sealant could be the answer. During winter, sealant works to prevent moisture from getting into cracks, where it expands and contracts, breaking up pavement. And during the longer summer months, it will keep moisture from getting underneath, causing blisters and bubbles that lead to a bad first impression on customers. Adapting to a changed climate is consequently a necessary component of a response strategy.

Dollars and ‘Sense’ Change
Adaptations, however, can involve trade-offs, and do involve costs. Large increases in the heat index (which combines temperature and humidity) and increases in the frequency of heat waves are very likely, making air conditioning a huge consideration for businesses hoping to keep their customers cool and comfortable in the sticky heat. Money spent on air conditioning might offset losses incurred from uncomfortable customers, while savings on heating costs could also counter-balance spending.

Larger scale, community-wide problems are also a consideration. It is anticipated that sea-level rise will very likely put coastal communities at an increased risk of storm surges, especially in the Southeast. Water shortages and conflicts, especially in the western U.S., could be exacerbated by a reduction in snowpack. Preventative measures in such instances would need to be weighed against predicted damages to determine what the most financially intelligent decision is. Preemptive measures often cost less than fixing things after damage is done.

Climate variability and change will interact with other environmental stresses and socioeconomic changes. Air and water pollution, habitat fragmentation, wetland loss, coastal erosion and reductions in fisheries are likely to be compounded by climate-related stresses.

An aging populace and rapidly growing populations in cities, coastal areas and across the South and West are social factors that interact with, and alter, sensitivity to climate variability and change. Having the necessary information to make such informed decisions becomes as crucial as reacting appropriately.

Elevating Your Business
Don’t count on your weatherperson to give you dependable predictions. It is likely that some aspects and impacts of climate change will be totally unanticipated as complex systems respond to ongoing climate change in unforeseeable ways. If you are serious about successfully anticipating climate changes while adapting effectively to reduce damages and utilize positive elements, then it is time to seek the elevated solution.

Begin your successful development and implementation of a preventative maintenance plan today. If you are like most facility managers and your time, schedule and responsibilities don’t allow the investment of time necessary to reliably assess climate changes and how they will affect your business, then perhaps it is time to contact an exterior services management (ESM) company and let them do it for you. Let your ESM company take the guesswork out and set you on your way to the assurance of a plan tailored to all of the demands in every region of your footprint.