Hotter summers, stronger storms and rising sea levels lie ahead for Georgetown County as a result of climate change, and local officials need to prepare for the future now, according to a recently completed study.
Thanks to a $100,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Georgetown Rise, an initiative managed by Coastal Carolina University, produced the Georgetown Climate Adaptation Project; a novel concept of recognizing climate science and using real data to empower the local community.
GCAP was modeled after a similar project in New England and concluded with a presentation to County Council on June 25.
The presentation was made by Maeve Snyder, Coastal Training Program Coordinator for the Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Dr. Pamela Martin of Coastal Carolina University and the United Nations Regional Center of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development Georgetown. The UN has established over 160 of these regional centers around the globe, and Georgetown is the only one in the Southeast United States.
Dr. Martin said they took the New England research methodology and applied it to Georgetown County so that local leaders could make informed decisions with climate change in mind. This information comes as the County is updating its comprehensive plan.
According to the data presented by Snyder and Martin, Georgetown County should anticipate some pretty significant climate changes in the near and long-term future. The projections assume the continued use of fossil fuels and suggest reductions in extreme winter weather with increased annual temperatures, rainfall and storm events.
According to the data, long-term changes will result in summer temperature increases from a 90 degree average summer high to an estimated 97.7 average. Additionally, Georgetown County experiences nearly 20 days per year when temperatures are below 28 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter. Project coordinators see that number dropping to around 15 days per year in the short term (2010-2039) and to continue dropping to 5.6 days in the long term (2070 and beyond). Sea level rise is anticipated at about 2 inches in the short term and between 8.6 inches and 10.6 inches in the long term.
“It’s not just a report from two local researchers,” Dr. Martin said. “It’s a report driven by national scientists with international scientific data.”
The project utilized a hyper-local approach by employing a series of role-playing scenarios and workshops in which participants weighed the values held by various stakeholders such as business owners, residents and government representatives in order to make community decisions. Participants ranged from Waccamaw High School students to retirees. The workshops were held in Plantersville, Andrews, Murrells Inlet and the City of Georgetown.
In addition to the actual climate change predictions for Georgetown County, the project also compiled climate-relevant data from the local population. The vast majority of participants expressed a relatively high concern for climate impacts. The most significant local concerns were increased flooding, health issues and failing infrastructure followed closely by ecosystem and poverty. An interesting result from the survey was that residents placed the onus for addressing these issues on the local government more so than state or federal entities or even individuals.
Most of the participants also said climate change should be a very important factor in planning and decision making.
“In a world of changing natural disaster dynamics and coastal security issues, we wanted to be able to create a proactive stance to create shovel ready projects that were driven by data analysis and science,” Dr. Martin said.
The scientific-based approach was geared toward preparing communities to deal with challenging situations, such as hurricanes and flooding, before the event actually occurs, Snyder said.
The Georgetown County Planning Commission continues to update its comprehensive plan, which guides the County’s approach to just about everything. The Planning Commission is scheduled to meet again on July 18.