Comprehensive Vulnerability Assessment Template and Scenario Development for Great Lakes Cities

Cities require vulnerability assessments (VAs) for virtually every planning process (i.e., natural hazards, infrastructure, climate change), but they are rarely coordinated across existing planning domains. To save municipal staff time and resources that are often dedicated to duplicative VAs, GLISA, in partnership with the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC), worked with five Great Lakes cities in 2017 (i.e., Ann Arbor & Dearborn (MI), Indianapolis (IN), Evanston (IL), and Cleveland (OH)), and the Great Lakes Climate Adaptation Network (GLCAN) to develop a comprehensive VA template. The project-based template was intended to mainstream the adaptation planning process by integrating climate-smart and equity-focused information into all types of city planning and will be publicly available. GLISA provided localized climate information for the Great Lakes region and for each city (i.e., historical, observations, future projections) and also developed region-specific climate impacts sectors of interest identified by the city practitioners (i.e., stormwater management and hazard mitigation). The customized climatologies GLISA created for each of the five cities includes a Great Lakes climate summary with qualitative information about impacts, a city-specific climate overview with quantitative data for historical observations and future projections, and a narrative section describing some of the local trends in climate variables. These climatologies evolved over the course of the project by incorporating iterative feedback from the cities throughout their development to ensure we were providing relevant information that was needed. For instance, information on precipitation trends and thresholds was expanded in the summary due to cities’ interest in extreme precipitation and its impacts on stormwater management. In addition to total and extreme precipitation, data and narratives on temperature, seasonality, and hot and cold days were also provided.

This project was funded by an Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) Innovation Fund grant and was a continuation of GLISA’s work with Great Lakes cities (i.e., the Great Lakes Adaptation Assessment for Cities or GLAA-C). It was also the first externally funded project with GLCAN, an advocacy network created within USDN focusing on urban adaptation. Project outputs are available on the USDN website. An extension of this project, Neighborhoods at Risk, is a flexible climate risk planning tool developed by Headwaters Economics from a USDN Innovation Fund grant. It is designed to “provide access to up-to-date, practical, neighborhood-level information about at-risk people and their vulnerability to the impacts from climate change.” Users can map neighborhoods “using criteria for climate risks and socioeconomic stressors–including age, race, and income–overlaid with factors such as extreme heat, proximity to floodplains, and canopy cover.” GLISA received funding from the NOAA Sectoral Applications and Research Program (SARP) to continue the vulnerability assessment template work and apply the template to stormwater management with 12 cities in the Great Lakes and from the National Academies of Sciences Gulf Research Program to scale up the template for cities in the U.S. Gulf coast.

Project Accomplishments

HRWC, in partnership with GLISA and GLCAN, developed a comprehensive vulnerability assessment template for five Great Lakes cities to incorporate climate and socio economic information into existing planning processes. GLISA provided tailored local climate information for each of the five cities as part of the template. Two participating cities, Cleveland and Indianapolis, completed their vulnerability assessment and used it to develop city-wide Climate Action Plans. Cleveland, OH updated their city-wide Climate Action Plan using the information from the assessment. Indianapolis, IN created a combined Climate, Sustainability, and Resilience Plan built on information from the assessment and use the template’s climate and socioeconomic vulnerability data as justification for resilience actions in city planning. The Climate Action Resilience Plan (CARP) working group of the city of Evanston, IL relies on the VA template as their first source of information. The city was appreciative of the amount of time and resources that the customized climate summary save them since they did not have to locate, evaluate, and analyze climate data themselves. The information was already provided to them in a format that was easily understandable to a general audience, so the CARP group uses climate information directly from the template to communicate impacts to the broader community.

GLISA produced a case study that highlights the VA template project as a model for the sustainable coproduction of climate information. Developed in collaboration with Michigan Sustainability Cases, the case is co-authored by Great Lakes city planners and watershed managers. It features several media components, including a video, podcast, and interactive diagram illustrating the role of boundary organizations in the project. The project was also featured in the Midwest chapter of the Fourth National Climate Assessment as a Great Lakes case study on vulnerability and adaptation.

Project Partners: Matt Naud, City of Ann Arbor & Great Lakes Climate Adaptation Network; Rebecca Esselman, Huron River Watershed Council; Missy Stults, City of Ann Arbor

GLISA Contact: Kim Channell, Climatologist:


“Some of the primary benefits I’ve seen from [the vulnerability assessment] have been that it has essentially eliminated the conversations and the amount of time we had to spend on data source and data collection methodology. It provided the information in a way that a lot of people were able to digest it, which was really helpful.”

Practitioner, City of Evanston