News Brief

Goodbye, Denial: Free Tools Expose Localized Climate Realities

The Climate Explorer and the CMRA translate nerdy climate projections into eye-opening images that should be well worth more than a thousand words in the push for resilient design.

screenshot of a map in various shades of orange showing a high number of extreme-heat days in northern virginia and washington d.c.

A low-emission scenario mapped in Washington, D.C. and surrounding counties. In the upper right, two buttons allow users to explore relationships between localized climate projections and information from databases tracking climate justice and resilient-building-code adoption.

Image: Climate Mapping for Resilience and Adaptation (CMRA)
Just as people began suffering through last summer’s heat waves and bracing for hurricane season, the Biden administration published a press release touting its resilience efforts, including, the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, and the National Climate Resilience Framework. The White House also pointed to a rapidly expanding resilience toolkit overflowing with step-by-step assessment guidancecase studies, and tools. These resources include two visualization tools, Climate Mapping for Resilience and Adaptation (CMRA) and the Climate Explorer, both of which can help building practitioners make the case for resilient design while also aiding them with assessments of climate change exposure, vulnerability, and risk.

Each tool leverages downscaled, highly localized climate projections to present astonishing visualizations of what the future holds, drawing data from the representative concentration pathways (RCPs, which we explain in our primer on climate change lingo). The two RCPs considered are 4.5, a low-emission scenario but not the best case, and 8.5, the worst-case scenario. 

CMRA was developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Department of Interior for the purpose of identifying exposure to climate hazards at the level of U.S. counties, census tracts, or Tribal lands.

The tool features plenty of buttons and knobs, comparing two different climate scenarios and displaying results for three different time periods and five different hazards—extreme heat, drought, wildfire, flooding, and coastal inundation. Users can also explore relationships between these localized climate projections and information from other federally managed tools—namely databases tracking climate justice and resilient-building-code adoption.

The Climate Explorer, also supported by NOAA but created and hosted by private-sector partners, features arresting maps whose purpose is to visualize the difference between the past and the two possible futures under consideration.

screenshot of a map of the washington d.c. area showing average daily temperature changes—a dark orange hue on the left (the past) and deep red on the right (high-emission scenario).

The Climate Explorer tool shows the difference between the past and two possible futures; this shows average daily temperature in summer under the high-emission scenario.

Image: Climate Explorer
In addition to these maps, the Climate Explorer includes within its climate graphs a unique “hindcasting” feature. Hindcasts are a way to test forward-looking climate models by applying the model’s methodology to past climate conditions. That way, the modeler can assess how close their backward-looking “predictions” came to what actually happened in the past. Users of the tool can see how close the model came to recorded weather observations and can adjust expectations accordingly.

Both these tools can be used as part of a resilient design process, adding detail and granularity to considerations of hazard exposure, vulnerability, and risk at the scale of a building or an entire community.

More on resilience assessments and planning

Assessing Climate Hazards: The First Step in Resilient Design

Future Heat Waves Will Kill Power and AC—and People

Six Ways the COVID Pandemic Is Changing IAQ for Good

The IRA’s Green and Resilient Retrofit Program: Just the Basics

For more information:

U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit

Published October 9, 2023

Melton, P. (2023, October 9). Goodbye, Denial: Free Tools Expose Localized Climate Realities. Retrieved from

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October 17, 2023 - 11:35 am

Thank you so much for sharing these valuable tools. Do you happen to know any similar tools for international projects?
Thank you.

October 17, 2023 - 12:57 pm

It's hard to imagine the U.S. is leaping ahead in this area, but "international" is a big place! Do you have any specific markets in mind? I'm not familiar with all the tools, but I could do some research on options if it were a bit narrowed down.

November 20, 2023 - 9:40 am

There are some tools in larger spatial scale (e.g., city, or country level) for International locations. Check out INFORM Map Explorer, and The World Bank Climate and Disaster Risk Screening Tools.