Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Climate Change Adaptation Guide for Transportation Systems Management, Operations, and Maintenance

III. Steps to Adapt Transportation System Management and Operations and Maintenance Programs to Climate Change

A. How Transportation System Management and Operations and Maintenance Work Together on Climate Change

Over the past 10 years, State and local agencies have implemented various TSMO and maintenance strategies to mitigate the impacts of adverse weather on the transportation system. The strategies run the gamut from plowing and sanding to coordinated traffic control strategies and regional traveler information. Agencies respond to weather events through a multi-pronged approach that involves a combination of operational, maintenance, and, at times, emergency management strategies. Typical strategies used today include motorist alerts, advisories, warnings (which include roadside active warning systems and pre-trip traveler information systems), speed restrictions (variable speed limits, for example), vehicle restrictions (truck restrictions during high winds), route restrictions (road closures), anti-icing/deicing road surface treatments, plowing, and traffic signal management (weather responsive traffic management). In addition, traffic incident and emergency management practices provide agencies with the ability to marshal resources effectively to address adverse weather. Most of these approaches require multi-agency and multi-disciplinary capabilities to be brought together efficiently before, during, and after the extreme weather event. Traffic incident and emergency management collectively fall under the area of emergency transportation operations (ETO), which involves collaboration and coordination between transportation, public safety (fire, rescue, emergency medical service [EMS]), law enforcement) and emergency management communities.

The roles and responsibilities of TSMO, maintenance, and emergency response managers and staff are connected and often interdependent in addressing the impacts of extreme weather and climate change on the transportation system. Each functional group has a unique set of decisions falling across the six areas of the CMF (described in section II) that may need to be examined in adapting to climate change. For example, the managers of maintenance programs will be concerned with decisions involving pavement rehabilitation needs and methods, bridge maintenance needs and methods, construction and maintenance work timelines and timeframes, and vegetation control. TSMO program managers will need to revisit other decisions such as the types of monitoring equipment and sources, communication needs, and siting criteria necessary to obtain real-time operational information on the transportation system and push information out to travelers. Emergency management leaders, in coordination with operations divisions, will look at adapting operating procedures and resource levels to prepare for hurricane evacuations or other weather-related emergencies. As is evident, TSMO functions rely on well-maintained infrastructure, and successful emergency management depends on reliable and strategically deployed TSMO infrastructure (e.g., traffic signals, contra-flow lanes, variable message signs (VMS), cameras, road weather information stations), TSMO staff, and fine-tuned operating procedures that can be leveraged during emergencies. The same holds true for maintenance, its infrastructure, and the linkage between maintenance and emergency management.

The link between transportation operations and emergency management varies depending on the scale of the event. During major, catastrophic events emergency management agencies have control of the response and transportation operations. During less extreme events, the DOTs maintain control over the highways and major arterials. This difference will be important to consider when DOTs plan actions to address climate change risks in the short and long term. Figure 4 illustrates that as the level of severity of the incident increases, the number of agencies involved grows beyond the DOT to include public safety and emergency management agencies. The increase in severity also indicates that a greater level of collaboration and communication between agencies and functions is required.
Conceptual graph shoss that as the severity of an incident increases, the number of agencies involved in response increases. Incident severity ranges from planned activities, in which only departments of transportation and state and local agencies are involved, to minor incidents, which increases involvement to include public safety agencies. For major incidents, involvement increase to the addition of other local agencies such as emergency management, roads, and public works. HAZMAT incidents involve all of the previously mentioned agencies as well as state emergency management agencies and potentially the federal government. Terrorist incidents, the most severe type of incident, involve all of the agencies mentioned.
Figure 4. Graph. As the Severity of an Incident Increases, More Agencies become Involved.12

B. Overview of an Operations Adaptation Framework

FHWA has developed and tested a Climate Change and Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Framework (“the Framework”) (see Figure 5) which consists of a report13 and an online virtual framework (see Figure 6),14 which serve both as a guide and a collection of resources for use by transportation professionals when analyzing the impacts of climate change and extreme weather on transportation infrastructure. Its purpose is to identify key considerations, questions, and resources that can be used to design and implement a climate change vulnerability assessment. To date, the Framework has been tested by 24 pilots and has undergone a series of refinements as a result of the real-world findings. The pilots have also contributed to the plentiful body of lessons learned and example resources that are linked to the virtual version of the Framework.

Diagram depicting the Climate Change and Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Framework.
Figure 5. Diagram. FHWA Climate Change and Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Framework.

The FHWA Virtual Framework

FHWA has developed a broad set of resources to help transportation agencies prepare for climate change. The "Virtual Framework for Vulnerability Assessment" website houses resources for State and local transportation agencies (see Figure 6). The Virtual Framework breaks the vulnerability assessment process into six modules. Each module contains step-by-step guidance, video testimonials from professionals sharing lessons on their experience, case studies related to the framework step, links to resources related to the step, and tools to help a user complete the step.

Screen capture of Module 2 of the Virtual Framework for Vulnerability Assessment.
Figure 6. Screenshot. FHWA Virtual Framework for Vulnerability Assessment (Module 2 shown).

This guide is intended to complement the resources on the Virtual Framework and provide targeted guidance to staff in the TSMO and maintenance domains. Throughout this document, the Virtual Framework is referenced as appropriate, in cases where guidance (e.g., where to find climate data) is not operations-specific.

The Framework, originally developed with an infrastructure planning and design focus, provides the organizing principle for understanding adaptation needs from an operations and maintenance perspective as well.

Consistent with the Framework the primary components of this guide include:

  • Define objectives and scope.
  • Assess vulnerability.
  • Integrate climate change considerations into decision making.
  • Monitor, revisit, and develop new objectives.

While the emphasis of this guide is on concrete actions DOTs can take to integrate climate change into decision making, it is critical to also define the scope of adaptation efforts and assess vulnerabilities to inform the development of adaptation strategies. Figure 7 illustrates how TSMO and maintenance groups can use the Framework to identify and implement appropriate strategies for their unique conditions and locations.

This diagram provides a series of steps for developing a TSMO and Maintenance Adaptation framework
Figure 7. Diagram. Climate Change and Extreme Weather Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) and Maintenance Adaptation Framework.

C. Define Scope

It is important to articulate the objectives of the adaptation effort up front and identify the anticipated changes in climate that are most relevant to your agency. Together, these steps frame the scope of the planning effort and drive the details required; they help minimize data collection and analysis activities that would ultimately be extraneous to the desired objectives.

1. Articulate Program Goals and Operations Objectives

TSMO and maintenance offices within agencies have long been driven by goals and objectives largely around safety, levels of service, and reliability. DOTs need to adapt to climate change to ensure they can continue to meet program goals.

Program goals and operations objectives may require some updates when anticipated climate changes are taken into account. These updates may be only subtle shifts in agency focus, but should aim to define what must be achieved to ensure resilient operations. Agencies should consider what levels of performance are expected during adverse weather (which may become more frequent or intense under a changing climate) and what levels of disruption are tolerable. Demand-oriented goals and objectives (e.g., the role of the agency in serving the surge in demand that may be expected) need to be defined as well as the expectations for restoration of services and travel.

Getting Started: Obtaining Buy-In

A critical component to any organizational change is developing support for that change among key decision makers and stakeholders. Adapting a TSMO or maintenance program to increase climate change resiliency requires gathering support among program management, agency decision makers, program staff, and others involved in the TSMO or maintenance program activities. The level of buy-in required will depend on the scale of change desired. Below are several recommendations for gathering support for adapting a TSMO or maintenance program to prepare for the current and potential future impacts of climate change:

  • Make the business case for resilience.
    • Start by identifying any current issues in operating and maintaining the transportation system as a result of extreme weather events or noticeable changes in climate.
    • Use FHWA documents, such as the Regional Climate Change Effects: Useful Information for Transportation Agencies, to gather key reasons to be concerned about climate change and what the projected effects are of climate change locally.15
    • Find a model or example to strengthen the case. FHWA has several case studies available.
  • Engage staff and leadership throughout the DOT early and often, especially in the vulnerability assessment and brainstorming of adaptation strategies.
  • Establish clear roles and responsibilities for individuals within the organization and determine systems for accountability.
  • Improve integration of TSMO, maintenance, and emergency management into DOT planning for climate change.

Agencies should also develop more specific, outcome-based operations objectives for the program goals. These operations objectives should be refined and tied to specific performance measures when working through sections IV.D. Assess Vulnerability and IV.E Integrate into Decision Making (and once the user has a better understanding of realistic expectations that take into account future changes in climate).

2. Identify Key Climate Variables

Changes in climate and extreme weather events will not be uniform throughout the world or even throughout the United States. It is important to identify the climate stressors or extreme weather events (e.g., increase in extreme heat, more frequent heavy precipitation, increased precipitation variability, drought, flooding, sea level rise, higher storm surges, increase in wildfire probability) that: (1) could occur locally; and (2) could affect local TSMO and maintenance programs. Examples of the geographic diversity of climate impacts can be seen in Figure 8. A complete set of resources for identifying local climate changes is available as part of Module 2 of FHWA's Virtual Framework for Vulnerability Assessment.16 Once the regional climate stressors of concern have been identified, Section D.3 explains how to refine DOTs understanding of the scale and impacts of those climate stressors on TSMO and maintenance.

Two heat maps of the United States depicting projected changes in precipitation under a rapid emissions reduction scenario and a continued emissions increase scenario.
Figure 8. Projected Temperature Changes under Low and High Emissions Scenarios17

3. Develop Information on Sensitivity to Climate

Sensitivity = how an asset or system fares when it is exposed to an impact.

Source: FHWA Virtual Adaptation Framework.

As discussed below in Section D.2 Information on the past climate and the resultant impacts is useful for understanding the kinds of weather and climate effects to which assets and operations are sensitive and can help to identify thresholds beyond which future climate effects may affect those assets.

It is also important to look forward and identify decisions that may be climate sensitive in the future and which decisions (e.g., standard operating practices, budget allocations) may be based on historical climate trends that no longer accurately reflect more recent trends (that have shifted due to climate change).

The following is a proposed definition for climate-sensitive decisions:

Decisions are climate-sensitive if their continued effectiveness could be compromised by projected changes in climatic conditions (e.g., changes in temperature, precipitation, weather patterns, and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events).

TSMO and maintenance decisions that DOTs make on a daily basis are rarely climate-sensitive, because the implications of those decisions are typically so short-lived that there is not enough time for them to be compromised by the effects of climate change. Transportation agencies make numerous short-term and long-term decisions about their TSMO and maintenance programs, however. Potential changes in extreme weather events or climate variability are relevant to many of these decisions, especially the decisions agencies make infrequently.

An early step in identifying how DOTs can adapt their TSMO and maintenance programs is to identify possible entry points—existing decisions that could incorporate climate change considerations in the future. For example, knowing that there could be more frequent flooding events could change an agency’s decision about what workforce capabilities are required for the season. Table 1 provides an example of potential TSMO and maintenance decisions which may be influenced by climate change and extreme weather. Additional examples and related information are provided in Appendix A – Matrix of Climate-Sensitive Decisions. For each decision, the appendix includes a description, how climate stressors affect the decision, and which climate stressors affect the decision.

Table 1. Example of Climate-Sensitive Decisions
Climate-Sensitive Decision Areas Specific Decisions Description
1. Planning for future workforce needs. Determine the right level of workforce requirements and capabilities. Operating agencies make a variety of workforce-related decisions, including the number of staff required, their locations, and capabilities necessary to monitor, control, report, and maintain the roadway system.
2. Planning for operations and maintenance investments. Determine criteria to prioritize operational resource investments (including capital improvements). Resource investments may include new capital improvements for operations and maintenance such as control systems, field equipment, vehicles, communications, and power. They may also include investments for annual maintenance.
3. Budgeting for operations and maintenance. Determine the appropriate funding needs and levels on annual and multi-year basis. Operating agencies typically are funded on an annual basis. Funding levels greatly drive the overall program capabilities and functions.
4. Establishing realistic objectives. Set regional operations objectives for the program. Effective planning for operations requires a clear articulation of regional operations objectives. These objectives define the response strategies and the performance-based management required.
Note: Excerpted from Appendix A – Matrix of Climate-Sensitive Decisions

While day-to-day management of traffic operations might not be particularly sensitive to broader changes in climate, the planning required to support agile TSMO and maintenance programs may involve more climate-sensitive decisions. For example, future workforce equipment needs, facility siting, material procurement, technology deployments, business processes, and institutional arrangements typically span multiple seasons and even years. The effectiveness of such decisions made today may be compromised by changes in climate.

The following list of questions can help agencies determine if a decision is climate-sensitive:

  • Do climate variables have a direct effect on the decision outcomes? For example, will increases in precipitation overwhelm current maintenance practices?
  • Can climate variables affect the underlying assumptions upon which the decision is founded? For example, will changes in the climate, such as precipitation, affect traffic levels, which in turn impact roadway operations and management?
  • Is climate likely to change during the time period governed by the decision? Consider long-term, chronic changes in climate as well as the increased frequency of acute weather events.
    • What is the time horizon for planning and implementation?
    • How frequently is the decision made?
  • Is this a single decision moment or a multiple decision moment (i.e., is the decision made once and then executed or is there room for refinement and adjustment over the course of implementation/operations)? Includes:
    • Financial reversibility (i.e., does the practice represent a cost that cannot be recovered?)
    • Foreclosure of other options (i.e., does implementing this practice limit the availability of other practices in the future?).

In addition, think about whether there are any specific weather thresholds at which the decisions become sensitive. Linking TSMO and maintenance practices to weather thresholds is a needed step in this process. To date, these rules have been ad-hoc and not formalized. In the past, experienced supervisors knew what activities could be scheduled based on weather conditions like precipitation, wind speeds, visibility, and temperature. There are no standard weather-related practices for maintenance or operations actions. When there are specific thresholds for weather conditions (e.g., staff cannot work without frequent breaks when temperatures are above X°F), projections on how those specific variables may change in the future can help inform planning.

Identifying Weather Sensitivity Thresholds

An important component of understanding how climate change may affect TSMO and maintenance practices is understanding whether there are specific weather thresholds that affect TSMO and maintenance—and then, whether those thresholds may change in the future.

The links between weather, TSMO, and maintenance are often well understood at the individual level (e.g., maintenance supervisors), but these "rules" are often ad hoc and are rarely documented or formalized. Consider using the climate change planning process to capture internal guidelines and weather thresholds. For example, the table below can serve as a "template" for identifying and recording weather sensitivity thresholds. This is derived for work focused on Illinois and Iowa DOTs. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) in Austin, Texas, completed a similar exercise to identify sensitivity thresholds as part of their FHWA-funded Climate Resilience Pilot Project.

Table 2. Sample Template for Identifying and Recording Weather Sensitivity Thresholds.
TSMO/Maintenance Activity Weather Variable Threshold (conditions must be...)
Pavement maintenance: full depth concrete Air temperature ≥ 50°F
Relative humidity ≥ 60%
Precipitation rate ≤ 0.01 in./hr.
Probability of precipitation 3 hr. ≤ 40%
Pavement preventive maintenance: crack and joint sealing Air temperature 30-60°F
Precipitation rate ≤ 0.01 in./hr.
Probability of precipitation 3 hr. ≤ 40%
Tree and shrub planting 24-hr. precipitation ≤ 1 in
Precipitation rate ≤ 0.01 in./hr.
Probability of precipitation 1 hr. ≤ 60%

Adapted from FHWA, Clarus Multi-State Regional Demonstrations, Evaluation of Use Case #3: Non-Winter Maintenance Decision Support System, "Appendix A," FHWA-JPO-11-118 (Washington, DC, 2011), available from:

Additional information on possible impacts of climate change on transportation systems (including infrastructure and operations) can be found in TRB Special Report 290, NCHRP Report 750, among others. This and other resources are available at the FHWA Virtual Adaptation Framework Climate Change Adaptation Case Studies and Resources.18

Using Scenario Planning to Understand Climate Change Vulnerability and Risk

Scenario planning is an approach to planning that is increasingly being used by transportation planning organizations to make critical decisions in the face of uncertainty. Scenario planning helps stakeholders answer questions such as what are the policies, strategies, or investments that help us achieve our goals in light of uncontrollable or unknown future conditions. Scenario planning brings together interagency and intra-agency stakeholders needed to effectively address an issue and helps them make decisions that are more robust in a variety of futures. It also helps create a more adaptive, resilient organization or program.

Scenario planning could be used to help make decisions regarding adapting a TSMO or maintenance program for potential climate change impacts. Scenario planning allows organizations to explore several distinct possible futures that may result from different paths that climate change may take, analyze the potential consequences, and investigate alternative TSMO and maintenance strategies to address the issues. The scenario approach formalizes the consideration of uncertainty in preparing for climate change impacts in a systematic way. Scenario planning may also aid in helping to set expectations among planners and even the general public on acceptable levels of system performance under extreme conditions by assessing the trade-offs between levels of investment and levels of system operation during different levels of severe weather.

Finally, the scenario process might also aid the region in better understanding its areas of susceptibility, thereby further helping to refine and strategically deploy TSMO and maintenance strategies. There are models (e.g., Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS); Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH)) that can be can be used to run extreme future event scenarios. These model runs could be used to inform a planning process that considers high heat, winter storms, summer storms, sea level rise, wildfires, or cascading impacts (e.g., power/utility failure, landslides).

D. Assess Vulnerability

The level of vulnerability assessment needed – high-level or detailed, qualitative or quantitative, statewide or localized, agency-wide or by departments – will vary based on the types of decisions required. Regardless of the exact process used, the following are key elements of a vulnerability assessment.

1. Document Existing Capabilities

It is important to take a look at current or baseline capabilities (assessing both technical as well as institutional capability to respond to climate and extreme weather) before seeking to determine improvements in those capabilities (discussed in Section III.E.4). The CMF provides a useful framework for assessing and documenting existing institutional capabilities (and will be discussed again later in the context of determining improvement in capabilities necessary for successful implementation of adaptation measures). The framework defines capability in terms of six areas that together inform the agency's overall ability to respond to changing conditions: business processes, systems and technology, performance management, culture, organization and workforce, and collaboration. Documenting current capabilities and identifying where those capabilities fall on the spectrum of ad-hoc implementation to planning for optimized practices will help an agency gain a better sense of how resilient they may already be to climate change and extreme weather events.

2. Collect and Integrate Data on Past Performance

Examining previous vulnerabilities can be an excellent starting point for thinking about future vulnerabilities. Common climate change-related TSMO and maintenance program vulnerabilities include:

  • Loss of roadway capacity.
  • Loss of alternative routes.
  • Loss of situational awareness (due to power/communication).
  • Inability to evacuate/shelter-in-place.
  • Loss of service life (due to faster deterioration, etc.).
  • Increased safety risk.
  • Loss of economic productivity.
  • Reduced mobility.

Internal records or other data on how the system has fared during previous extreme weather events can provide a rich source of insights into potential future vulnerabilities. Any of the following could be a source of information about system vulnerabilities:

  • Traffic incident reports – Check whether there were any incidents during specific recent extreme weather events that correspond to the climate stressors under evaluation (e.g., heat waves, heavy rain events, tropical storms).
  • Maintenance records – Check maintenance records for the time surrounding specific recent weather events.
  • After-action reports – These reports, compiled after extreme weather events, describe what happened, why, and areas for improvement. Mine these reports for information about vulnerabilities for applicable weather events.
  • Emergency reimbursement forms – For declared disasters relevant to the climate stressors under evaluation, review Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) or other emergency reimbursement requests to identify the magnitude and scope of damages during past events.
  • Staff interviews across departments – On-the-ground staff at DOTs often have deep institutional knowledge about existing vulnerabilities that may not be well-documented. Asking staff "What keeps you up at night?" can help facilitate discussion about key system vulnerabilities.19

Mining Agency Institutional Knowledge for Vulnerability Assessments

Washington State DOT (WSDOT) completed a statewide climate change vulnerability assessment in 2011. Their vulnerability assessment focused on asset-level vulnerabilities, but the approach would be transferrable to TSMO and maintenance vulnerabilities. The WSDOT assessment relied on a series of workshops with WSDOT staff, including district maintenance supervisors and their staff. They asked "What keeps you up at night?" and had staff individually rate each asset's vulnerability on a scale of 1 to 10. Lower scores corresponded to reduced capacity or temporary operational failure, while higher scores corresponded to complete asset failure.

Reference: WSDOT, Climate Impacts Vulnerability Assessment Report, November 2011. Available at: WSDOTClimateImpactsVulnerabilityAssessmentforFHWAFinal.pdf

If possible, build a dataset to correlate past extreme weather disruptions—gathered from the above sources—with information on the weather conditions associated with the event.

Local National Weather Service (NWS) Forecast Offices (there are 122 nationwide) house "Weather Event Archives" that can be very useful sources of information on past extreme events.20 It is also important to share collected information across offices or departments.

Getting Started: Strategies for Documenting Institutional Knowledge

On-the-ground staff at DOTs are largely aware of the current weather-related problems they face on a regular basis. In addition, they are valuable resources in discussing hypothetical extreme weather scenarios, and may be able to readily identify potential points of failure.

Below are several possible mechanisms to collect and document the valuable institutional knowledge of staff, which can then be leveraged to improve planning for TSMO and maintenance in the face of climate change.

  • Conduct interviews with staff to document their knowledge of vulnerabilities. Interview questions can include:
    • Recall [a recent severe weather event]. How did that affect your purview?
    • When you have advance warning of an extreme [summer storm/winter storm/hurricane/heat event]:
      • What responses are triggered? Are those responses tied to any thresholds in event severity (e.g., only if there is more than 3" of snow)?
      • What personnel are involved?
      • What contractors are put on notice in the preparations?
      • What materials and equipment are put on standby?
    • When the event is over:
      • What inspections/audits are conducted to evaluate impacts?
      • How are corrective actions planned?
  • In a workshop setting, have staff place pins or dots on a map of the transportation system to identify locations with frequent weather-related issues (e.g., flooding, potholes).
  • Establish regular debriefs to bring together the department's cross-cutting (or multi-disciplinary) teams to discuss weather-related issues. Designate a person to take notes during the meeting and write down what works well, what does not, and what needs to change to make the system more resilient.
  • Establish transition plans for retiring staff. Ask them to write down their regular duties, habits, and unwritten expertise.

3. Develop Climate Inputs

In addition to gathering information on past weather disruptions and identifying key TSMO and maintenance weather sensitivities, another important component of a climate change vulnerability assessment is collecting data, qualitative or quantitative, on how climate stressors are projected to change locally. The focus should be on identifying how specific weather thresholds identified as currently affecting TSMO and maintenance activities may change in the future.

Several sources exist to provide information on potential future climate changes, a selection of which are highlighted in the following text box. See Module 4 of the FHWA Framework21 for additional guidance on gathering climate inputs.

Sources for Climate Inputs

Table 3. Sources for Climate Inputs.
Resource Description
National Climate Assessmen
  • High-level descriptions of how climate stressor may change.
  • Focused on larger geographic areas.
  • Good starting point to identify what types of climate changes are expected in the region.
U.S. DOT CMIP Climate Data Processing Tool
  • Excel-based tool to provide projections for climate variables relevant to transportation planners (e.g., number of days above 95°F, hottest 7-day temperatures, largest 3-day precipitation events).
  • Local-scale (56-224 sq. miles).
U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit
  • Evolving national "one-stop-stop" for climate information.
  • Provides links to dozens of climate projection data sources.
State Climatologist
  • May have already developed projections of how climate may change in the state/region.
University Climate Research Centers 
  • May have already developed projections of how climate may change in the state/region.
For additional information, see the "Develop Climate Inputs" section of the FHWA Virtual Framework at:

In addition to collecting information on climate projections, many transportation agencies have found it helpful to collect information on historical weather conditions in order to provide context for the projections. Examine RWIS data to help establish the climate record for the area. All properly sited and maintained weather stations can be a vital part of the climate record, especially if they have been maintained for longer than 30 years. If RWIS data is not available, data can be obtained from the local weather station(s) through the National Weather Service.

Understanding Uncertainty

Future climate change is dependent upon the amount of global greenhouse gasses emitted. In the near term, it is easier to predict emission levels because they will likely be similar to today's rate of emissions production given the limited time for society to evolve. It is very difficult to project emission levels out 50 to 90 years into the future because it is not known how our global society will evolve over time (e.g., population growth, economic growth, energy use, development of significant technological advancements, political action mitigating emissions). Thus, the range of plausible future emissions expands over future time, along with the plausible range of climate responses.

Diagram shows an isoceles triangle on its side creating a cone shape, with the narrow pointed tip on the left and the wide base of the triangle on the right. At the left, the top of the triangle is labeled "Present," and the opposite end, the base, is labeled "Distant Future."
Figure 9. Diagram. Increase in Uncertainty Over Time.

Near term climate projections have a tighter range of possibilities, while distant climate projections have wider range of possibilities.

Any projections of future climate conditions are subject to this uncertainty, but that doesn't have to prevent agencies from using this information. Scenario planning exercises can help DOTs identify adaptation strategies that increase resilience in a range of potential future conditions (see text box on page 23).

4. Characterize Impacts and Risks

Synthesize information on potential climate changes, past impacts, and known sensitivities to characterize possible impacts of climate change on TSMO and maintenance programs.

Determine Outputs

Think about how results will be used to determine what level of information is needed to inform decisions. Options include:

  • Qualitative vulnerability ratings of individual decisions, functions, components, or locations (the level of detail decided at the outset) – e.g., High, Medium, Low vulnerabilities. In this approach, consider vulnerability as a function of three components:22
    • Exposure – The nature and degree to which a system or asset is exposed to significant climate variations (i.e., whether and how climate stressors will change).
    • Sensitivity – Degree to which an asset or system is affected by exposure (i.e., if all assets were equally exposed, which would experience the greatest damage?).
    • Adaptive Capacity – Ability of a system to adjust, repair, and respond to damage or disruption. Adaptive capacity may not be applicable or ratable in many cases, so it may be excluded from vulnerability assessments. Figure 10 provides an example of a rapid qualitative assessment of the vulnerability of a pavement maintenance program to increasing temperatures. It assumes that no information is readily available on adaptive capacity for this rapid assessment (i.e., that more information might need to be gathered to assess that component if a more detailed assessment is determined to be useful).
Figure 10 provides an example of a rapid qualitative assessment of the vulnerability of a pavement maintenance program to increasing temperatures. It assumes that no information is readily available on adaptive capacity for this rapid assessment (i.e., that more information might need to be gathered to assess that component if a more detailed assessment is determined to be useful).
Diagram provides an example of a rapid qualitative assessment of the vulnerability of a pavement maintenance program to increasing temperatures.
Figure 10. Diagram. Rapid Qualitative Assessment of the Vulnerability of Pavement Maintenance Program to Extreme Heat
  • Quantitative vulnerability ratings – Use a quantitative approach to assign vulnerability ratings based on exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. For example, define and quantify sensitivity in terms of potential impact (e.g., costs, delays, disruptions).
  • Qualitative risk ratings – Identify "risks" rather than "vulnerabilities." The concepts are similar, but risk is different in that it incorporates likelihood of potential impact.
    • Risk is traditionally defined as the product of likelihood and consequence. Likelihood is parallel to the exposure component of vulnerability, and consequence is parallel to sensitivity.
    • Likelihood of potential impacts can be very difficult to evaluate, given the uncertainties inherent in climate projections. However, some agencies are more familiar with the concept of "risk" than vulnerabilities, so choose to present risk ratings.
  • Quantitative risk ratings – Use a quantitative approach to calculate risk of impacts

Determine Approach

Regardless of the intended outputs, there are three primary options for how to determine those outputs.

  • Data-driven, desktop analysis – Compile and assess data on climate projections and past impacts of weather events to determine future impacts of climate change.
  • Workshop-based, stakeholder-driven analysis – Engage staff and other stakeholders to qualitatively assess vulnerabilities or risks. For example, ask staff to identify the locations most susceptible to flooding, or the hypothetical consequences of different climate scenarios.
  • Hybrid approach – Complete a desktop analysis with available data, and "ground truth" the results with stakeholders through workshops, one-on-one interviews, or other mechanisms to get their feedback.

See the "Getting Started" boxes below for checklists to follow, along with tools and materials to evaluate climate change vulnerabilities or risks.

Getting Started: TSMO and Maintenance Vulnerability/Risk Assessment Matrix

This matrix lays out the possible areas to assess for vulnerabilities. It can be used as a "checklist" (i.e., check off each cell as it is completed), or to house assessment results (i.e., enter High, Medium, Low, or Not Applicable for each cell).

Example Vulnerability Assessment Matrix – Catalog of the Potential Areas where TSMO, Maintenance, and Emergency Management Functions May be Vulnerable

In each cell, rate vulnerabilities as High, Moderate-High, Low-Moderate, Low, or Not Applicable (row and column headings are intended to be illustrative rather than comprehensive)

Table 4. Example Vulnerability Assessment Matrix
Extreme heat, temperature increases Heavy rain events Flooding Storm surge Sea level rise Drought Wildfire Winter storms Changes in freeze/thaw cycles Permafrost thaw
TSMO Functions
Emergency response protocols
Pre-deployment of emergency supplies and equipment
Use of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS)
Procedures for road/bridge closures
Incident management
Road weather management
Asset management
Freeway and corridor management
Arterial management
Maintenance Functions
Bridge maintenance
Pavement maintenance
Shoulder maintenance
Embankment maintenance
Culvert maintenance
Vegetation management
Crew scheduling
Drainage clearing
Emergency Management Functions

Getting Started: Desktop Vulnerability/Risk Assessment Checklist

  • Determine desired outcome of vulnerability/risk assessment – vulnerability vs. risk, qualitative vs. quantitative.
  • Identify "wish list" of projected climate data (based on what climate impacts are relevant).
  • Collect historical climate data for those variables/event types.
    • Possible sources include RWIS, National Weather Service, agency weather data providers.
  • Collect data on projected changes in those variables/event types.
    • See FHWA Virtual Framework for data sources.
  • Collect data on historical impacts of events – costs, delays, disruptions, etc.
    • If requesting data from others within the organization, provide templates to make it easier for them to provide the requested data.
  • For each component under evaluation, determine its Exposure (e.g., potential change in temperature, whether it would be flooded under certain scenarios), Sensitivity, and Adaptive Capacity.
  • Use qualitative or quantitative methods to derive a vulnerability rating based on exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity ratings for each component.
    • For qualitative methods, see "Vulnerability Rating Exercise" below.
    • Or a Risk rating based on event likelihood and consequence for each component.
    • For qualitative methods, see "Risk Rating Exercise" below.
  • Engage on-the-ground staff across departments to review and vet the results.
  • Refine results as needed.
  • Revisit results over time.

Chart depicting the correlation between Adaptive Capacity and Damage (exposure and sensitivity) as an indicator of vulnerability. As damage increases and adaptive capacity decreases, vulnerability goes from low, through low-moderate, through moderate-high, to high.
Figure 11. Graph. Vulnerability as a Function of Adaptive Capacity and Damage.

Similar to the previous graphic, this heat map shows teh correlation between likelihood and consequence. When the likelihood of an event is very low or low, the risks are most likely to be minimal to moderate. As the likelihood of an event increases, the risk of severe consequances increase as well.
Figure 12. Graph. Risk Shown as a Function of Consequence and Likelihood.

Getting Started: Workshop-Based Vulnerability Assessment Checklist

Washington State DOT (WSDOT) Vulnerability Assessment Workshops

WSDOT identified a strategic goal to "identify WSDOT facilities vulnerable to the effects of climate change and to evaluate and identify possible strategies to reduce risk." As part of an FHWA pilot program, WSDOT developed a structured, stakeholder-based approach to qualitatively assess facility risk. The project team held 14 workshops in all regions of the state in which WSDOT staff rated all State owned highways and other transportation assets for climate vulnerability. In the workshops, participants used asset maps, climate scenarios, and their local knowledge to assess vulnerability.

At the start of each workshop, the project team presented a video about climate impacts on infrastructure, climate change scenarios for the state, and impact maps. A GIS specialist was on hand to overlay detailed asset inventories with climate impact data. Workshop participants then used a qualitative scoring system to assess roadway segments (or other assets) for criticality and to rate the effect that projected changes in climate would have on WSDOT infrastructure.

The total number of workshop participants exceeded 200, including maintenance staff; regional office staff; and state ferry, aviation, and rail system managers.

Additional information on the WSDOT vulnerability assessment approach is available at:

  • Identify stakeholders to participate in the vulnerability assessment process. Candidates include:
    • Regional/district maintenance supervisors and staff.
    • Planning department staff.
    • TSMO staff.
    • Materials engineers.
    • Emergency management staff.
    • Asset management staff.
    • GIS staff.
    • Regional partners (e.g., neighboring State DOTs, MPOs, corridor management organizations).
    • Federal and local partners (FHWA, local DOTs, transit operators).
    • Private sector partners (freight carriers, regional bus operators (e.g., Greyhound).
  • Define a clear scope and objectives for the workshop(s) and set an agenda.
    • Example agenda:
      • Introductions.
      • Review of potential climate changes and impacts of those changes.
      • Discussion: potential impacts of projected changes.
      • Review of available data (impacts of past events, historical trends).
      • Discussion/breakout groups oriented to achieve workshop goal (e.g., vulnerability ratings for each component; identification of critical areas, priorities for future research; discussion of available data?).
      • Next Steps.
      • Wrap Up.
  • Develop background materials for workshop (see sample handout in Appendix E. Sample Handout for Workshop on Climate Change Risk).
    • Collect available information.
    • Identify recent extreme weather events to spark discussion.
    • Compile information on projected climate changes.
      • See FHWA Virtual Framework for data sources.
  • Hold workshop.
  • Distribute follow-up items as needed.

E. Integrate into Decision Making

1. Identify Performance Measures

Performance measurement can help to measure qualitative and quantitative progress towards meeting the objectives of TSMO and maintenance programs. Performance measures can also help decision makers in determining how to spend their limited budgets by focusing expenditures towards specific operational issues in order to help them improve their performance metric scoring. Many DOTs have adopted or are in the process of developing performance measures.23 If a DOT desires to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change, it is important to integrate that desire into performance measures to ensure that progress toward that goal is tracked over time. The concept of climate change adaptation and resiliency can either be integrated into existing performance measures or adopted as a stand-alone measure. Good measures are defined in part by their ability to be measurable, understandable, and meaningful.24

Integrating Climate Change into Existing Objectives

Florida DOT's's 2060 Florida Transportation Plan outlines six overarching goals: (1) Economic Competitiveness, (2) Community Livability, (3) Environmental Stewardship, (4) Safety and Security, (5) Maintenance and Operations, and (6) Mobility and Connectivity. Within each goal, the plan sets specific objectives. Under the fifth goal, "Maintain and operate Florida's transportation system proactively," one of four objectives is "Reduce the vulnerability and increase the resilience of critical infrastructure to the impacts of climate trends and events." The plan outlines implementation strategies and performance indicators for the goal.

DOTs should consider whether revisions to existing performance measures are necessary to accommodate climate change. When setting or revising performance measures, it is important to work with local communities to establish a tolerance level for disruption (i.e., the acceptable level of operational performance if threat occurs) given the changes that are projected to occur due to climate change. It will be critical to explain that in some ways TSMO objectives may become easier while in other ways it may become harder (e.g. increased frequency and intensity of storm events). By using a scenario planning process, it can be demonstrated that in some instances, it will be harder to maintain historic levels of service (LOS) with more intense/frequent events and therefore the performance measures may need to be revised to reflect the changing reality. During this outreach process, it will also be valuable to discuss the public's mounting expectations for faster responses and constant access to a highly operational roadway system in order to emphasize the need to reach a common understanding of reasonable levels of service during extreme weather events.

Getting Started: Climate Change Focused Performance Measures

The table below contains a sample of operations objectives and performance measures that could be adopted by an organization looking to improve weather-related operations. These objectives and measures can also be used to focus a program on improving preparation and response to the impacts of climate change.

Table 5. Sample Operations Objectives and Performance Measures.25
Category Operations Objectives Performance Measures
Clearance Time (Weather-Related Debris)
  • Reduce average time to complete clearing (mode, hierarchy of facilities, or subarea of region) of weather-related debris after weather impact by X percent in Y years.
  • Reduce average time to complete clearing (interstates, freeways, expressways, all roads, main tracks, and main sidewalks) of weather-related debris after weather impact by X percent in Y years.
  • Average time to clear selected surface transportation facilities of weather-related debris after weather impact.
Detours for Impacted Roadways
  • Increase by X percent the number of significant travel routes covered by weather-related diversion plans by year Y.
  • Increase the percentage of agencies that have adopted multi-agency weather-related transportation operations plans and that are involved in transportation operations during weather events to X percent by year Y.
  • Percentage of significant travel routes covered by weather-related diversion plans.
  • Percentage of agencies involved in transportation operations during weather events that have adopted multi-agency, weather-related transportation operations plans.
Disseminating Information
  • Reduce time to alert travelers of travel weather impacts (using variable message signs, 511, RWIS, public information broadcasts, the agency's website, Web 2.0 technologies, etc.) by X (time period or percent) in Y years.
  • Time from beginning of weather event to posting of traveler information on (variable message signs, 511, RWIS, public information broadcasts etc.).
  • Time from beginning of weather event to posting of traveler information on agency website.
Road Weather Information System Coverage
  • Increase the percentage of major road network (or transit network or regional bicycle network) covered by weather sensors or an RWIS by X percent in Y years as defined by an RWIS station within Z miles.
  • Percentage of major road (transit or bicycle) network within Z miles of an RWIS station.
Signal Timing Plans
  • Special timing plans are available for use during inclement weather conditions for X miles of arterials in the region by year Y.
  • Number of miles of arterials that have at least one special timing plan for inclement weather events.

2. Identify Potential Adaptation Measures25

Adaptation strategies should be developed to address known vulnerabilities directly—either those already experienced or those identified through a vulnerability assessment. By mapping the strategies to the vulnerabilities, there is a direct link from problem to solution. Additionally, the strategies should be developed to help achieve new or existing performance metrics.

Frequently, adaptation strategies can be identified by looking to best practices in other states or regions that already experience more severe weather events. While the South may not be used to responding to ice storms, their counterparts in the North can provide guidance on how to prepare for, respond to, and recover from this type of event. This "climate shifting" is also true for extreme heat waves, flooding, landslides, wildfires, and other climate stressors. To develop strategies, review examples and best practices from other agencies and engage a diverse range of staff within the organization. The staff with longer tenures frequently knows the issues that arise during extreme weather events and can identify solutions to the problems.

Best Practices from the Field

Alaska The Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) is now conducting anti-icing with salt brine in the City of Fairbanks and other parts of interior Alaska. Historically, Fairbanks and interior roads would stay frozen from mid-fall to late spring, but now thawing and freezing rain events have caused the ADOT&PF to perform anti-icing, something never considered previously in the interior.
Washington Washington State DOT (WSDOT) recently invested in improvements to wireless communications capabilities and communication redundancies between Traffic Management Centers (TMCs). The agency also filled in communication gaps to ensure continuous communication across rural areas in the event of an emergency.
Maryland Maryland State Highway Administration (MDSHA) has installed backup power supply to three-quarters of its cameras and will have complete coverage by the middle of 2015. The situational awareness gained through closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) is critical for maintaining public safety during severe weather. MDSHA also has back-up power on traffic signals to avoid manual traffic direction.
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut State and local member organizations rely on the Transportation Operations Coordinating Committee (TRANSCOM) regional coordinating body to lead multi-agency coordination and communications, particularly during incidents or weather events. The organization has developed redundant (duplicate and triplicate) data servers and networks to ensure its information sharing systems can operate during an extreme event such as Hurricane Sandy, even in case of power outages. TRANSCOM has two server rooms and two server feeds within its offices, a backup in New Jersey, and a disaster recovery site on the west coast.
Alaska ADOT&PF issued a policy directive on winter maintenance coordination that requires all regions in the agency to assist in the event of an emergency, regardless of location. Likewise, WSDOT effectively dissolves district lines within the organization when responding to major events so that resources can be applied where they are most needed across the State.
Minnesota The maintenance division for Minnesota DOT (MnDOT) recently began working more closely with the transportation operations centers (TOCs) to ensure that the TOCs are fully utilizing the MnDOT road weather technology programs to help meet the organization's common goal of serving the needs of the freight, transit, and traveling public communities.
Wyoming and Utah Both the Wyoming DOT and the Utah DOT have citizen reporting programs that allow travelers to report back to the DOT on road conditions. This expands the DOTs awareness of hazardous road conditions on the network and helps the DOT provide "fresher" traveler information to the public. The Utah DOT uses the nation's first road weather reporting smartphone application.
Multiple States The FHWA Integrated Mobile Observations demonstration project involving multiple States, including MnDOT and Michigan DOT (MDOT), is a technological advancement that aims at improving resilience to extreme events. By using mobile data of atmospheric conditions around the vehicles, operations and maintenance supervisors can use real-time information to inform decisions about workforce deployment, road closures, or appropriate treatments to use. The data will eventually be pushed to connected vehicles for in-vehicle alerts.
Washington Responding to more intense and frequent weather events requires additional staff. WSDOT has recently begun using the National Guard when necessary for transportation-related activities. They act as an extension of WSDOT and the Washington State Patrol in assisting with road closures. WSDOT has found it important to know which external resources are available (e.g., National Guard), what roles those resources can serve, and how to access those resources quickly.

It is important to consider a diverse range of adaptation strategies to ensure that possible solutions, easy and difficult, are considered. Strategies for TSMO and maintenance should include the following types:

  • Policy-based changes – including guidance on incorporating climate change adaptation in TSMO and maintenance programs.
  • Built infrastructure measures – including construction of protective barriers, infrastructure hardening, permanent or temporary infrastructure relocation, development of climate-resilient design standards and retrofits, and green infrastructure.
  • Operational approaches – promote avoidance or reduction of impacts, as well as rapid and effective response to impacts as they occur.
  • Adaptive management – tracks hazards, impacts, costs, and effectiveness of adaptations and post-disaster response to inform the aforementioned categories of adaptation. This type of disciplined tracking of climate or weather impacts serves as an interim adaptation strategy to help both determine whether and what adaptation actions are necessary as well as develop a quantitative basis for investments and/or reimbursements. RWIS can be an important tool in tracking road weather conditions over time, anticipating maintenance needs, and identifying areas in need of investment.

Table 6 provides examples of some phased adaptation strategies that agencies may wish to consider. Before selecting any strategies, agencies should understand their own vulnerabilities and undertake a more robust and location-specific adaptation strategy development process.

Table 6. Sample Adaptation Strategies and Time Frames.
Vulnerability Response Implementing Department
Increased frequency of extreme events may require additional personnel to monitor, control, report, and respond to events. Changes in long-term climate trends may also change seasonal work requirements (e.g.,changes in winter weather seasons, construction timing, or landscaping timing) and necessitate additional or unique staff expertise to monitor and respond to new types of climate events (e.g., snow storm in Atlanta).

Short-term: Train existing personnel on the potential impacts of climate change and how this may affect their roles and responsibilities.

Medium-term: Increase the availability of contract staff to assist during extreme events. Develop MOUs with other agencies for equipment and staff sharing during extreme weather events.

Long-term: Hire additional staff to keep pace with increasing TSMO, maintenance, and emergency management  needs.

TSMO, Maintenance, Emergency  Management
Extreme events and long-term changes in climate can affect resource requirements. For example, increases in temperature can increase annual pavement maintenance costs, or changes in freeze/thaw cycles can increase potholes. Changes in winter weather and increasing weather uncertainty could also affect budgets.

Short-term: Increase cost tracking to respond to specific extreme weather events (see Getting Started: Data Collection Best Practices). Establish a "rainy-day" fund for unexpectedly bad years.

Medium-term: Revise budgeting process and protocols to account for recent trends that may diverge from the historical baseline.

Long-term: Work with meteorologists and climatologists to develop a process for taking anticipated future events into account while budgeting and planning.

Siting equipment in areas that will be impacted by sea level rise, ecological damage, flooding, snowfall, or other climatic events may damage the infrastructure.

Short-term: Consider FEMA flood zone maps (after confirming the relevant local maps are up to date) or other similarly informative maps when siting and designing sites for equipment.

Medium-term: Include consideration of future stressors (e.g., accelerated sea level rise) when making decisions about siting equipment. Consider changes (e.g., increasing freeboard requirements) to accommodate more intense rainfall events.

Long-term: Shift investments to mobile data sources (e.g., citizen reporters, snow patrol reporting, mobile probes), which are less likely to end up in harm's way.

TSMO, Maintenance
Climate stressors can lead to increased asset deterioration, requiring more frequent inspections (which can be expensive and time consuming).

Short-term: Track impacts of weather events in order to identify "hot-spots" that may require an increased rate of inspection.

Long-term: Use detailed, downscaled climate models to determine portions of the state (or region) that are anticipated to have greater shifts in climate. Dedicate increased inspection resources to those areas.

Pavements are designed to withstand particular temperature thresholds. High temperatures may lead to rutting, while cold (and freezing) conditions increase potholes.

Short-term: Increase inspection and tracking of roadway conditions.

Medium-term: Assess downscaled projected changes in temperatures to determine if a change in the pavement mix may be required.

Long-term: When repaving occurs, adjust paving mix as needed. Consider utilizing cooler pavements (e.g., light-colored aggregate) to reduce surface temperatures.

Increased frequency of precipitation (especially extreme precipitation), and increased high heat days may decrease worker safety and require delays in construction. Certain elements of construction (e.g., laying concrete, painting roads) can only be accomplished during a narrow range of weather conditions. Changes in weather will impact the length of the construction season and the contracts with construction companies.

Short-term: Continue current worker safety and project-bid practices.

Medium-term: Expand the use of technologies for pavement placing that operate better under high temperatures, for example, cold-in-place recycling, coarser aggregate, or using ice or chilled water to cool the asphalt. Investigate other technologies that are suited to faster construction during adverse weather conditions.

Long-term: Consider revising the construction season to start earlier and end later due to increased temperatures. During the height of summer, shift construction work to early morning and evening hours.

Increased rain (in some parts of the country) paired with increased temperatures can lead to accelerated vegetation growth and death. The dry fuel that remains poses wildfire hazards.

Short-term: Increase vegetation control within existing right-of-way.

Medium-term: Plant more drought tolerant vegetation that is less likely to provide fuel for wildfires.

Often deferred due to resource constraints, effective decisions in this area may in fact be more critical to operational capability than anticipated.

Flooding or other extreme weather may cause long-term disruptions to traffic (that run counter to current understanding of demand-supply relationships in a system).

Medium-term: Develop a plan for maintenance of traffic during weather events of various intensities (including non-severe, recurrent weather). In some cases, this may require significant detours and wide area communications to support adequate traveler information. Develop plans for culvert clearing and other maintenance or asset management activities.

Long-term: Create after-event reports that assess what worked and what did not. Revise plans based on lessons learned.

TSMO, Maintenance

3. Evaluate and Select Adaptation Measures

As with all transportation budgeting processes, it is unlikely that DOTs will be able to fund their entire "wish-list" of adaptation strategies. In order to narrow the list of strategies to a prioritized list, it is useful to use a systematic evaluation process.

San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)

In the development of its Adapting to Rising Tides study, the MTC used a series of steps to evaluate and narrow the list of potential adaptation strategies. Using a screening exercise followed by a qualitative assessment, the project team selected five strategies for further development.

The screening exercise included questions on the scale and replicability of the strategy, the barriers to implementation, the urgency of action, and impacts on society/equity, environment, and economy.

The qualitative assessment used an ordinal ranking system to compare the financial, social, environmental, and governance-related (e.g., funding, legal barriers) performance of the strategies.

As a last level of review, the project team used its professional experience to select a final set of balanced strategies.

The final report, with documentation of the adaptation action selection process, can be found here:

Some agencies may have established evaluation criteria for projects through other processes; if so, a variation on those criteria may prove to be an effective communication tool. If no such criteria exist, the following criteria may provide a useful starting point:

  • Technical and Political Feasibility – how practical it is for a particular strategy to be implemented, accounting for engineering, policy, legal, and insurance considerations?
  • Cost and Benefits – what are the up-front costs of implementation and the ongoing operations and maintenance costs? If implemented, what is the value of the damages from climate change that would be avoided?
  • Efficacy – if implemented, to what extent would the strategy reduce the risk?
  • Flexibility – if implemented, how easy would it be to revise the strategy at a later date? What is the adaptive management potential of the strategy?
  • Sustainability – does the strategy advance the "triple bottom line" of sustainability (e.g., what are the impacts to the economy, society, and the environment)?26

Co-Benefits of Adapting

DOTs should identify and account for the benefits and co-benefits of integrating specific adaptation strategies into TSMO programs. Generally, co-benefits are assessed at a qualitative level in order to help identify "win-win" strategies that increase resiliency to climate change and help to achieve other program objectives. Often, it is easier to obtain support for funding these types of solutions because they accomplish multiple goals. For example, several DOTs have justified upsizing culverts by highlighting the benefits for fish passage in addition to the increased capacity provided for increases in extreme precipitation events.

Some examples of co-benefits include:

  • Greenhouse gas mitigation.
  • Decreased operating costs.
  • Increased roadway safety.
  • Sustainability (i.e., improvements to the economy, environment, or social equity).
  • Improvements in other performance measures.

Depending on the needs of the DOT, the evaluation can be qualitative or quantitative in nature. A qualitative evaluation process is generally sufficient for selecting priorities while a quantified evaluation may be necessary in order to justify funding. A qualitative evaluation may use a simple three point or five point scale (e.g., low, medium, high or positive, neutral, negative) or rely on a narrative description of the pros and cons of the strategies. A quantitative evaluation can be more effective when competing for funding because it enables an agency to show hard numbers about the benefits of the program. Additionally, quantitative evaluation metrics (e.g., reduction in traffic delay) can be translated into financial benefits to be used in an economic assessment of the strategy. In some cases, as with FEMA Hazard Mitigation Funding, it is required to demonstrate the cost effectiveness of adaptation strategies before they will be funded. For more information on cost effectiveness tools and resources, see the Additional Resources section of this document.

While evaluation metrics are a useful tool for informing the decision making process, they should not be the basis for the entire decision making process. The input of the staff who work on these programs on a daily basis and of the decision makers who understand the needs of the community are also important pieces of information to take into account during the strategy selection process. Additionally, it is recommended that the total number of evaluation measures be kept to a small set of valued measures in order to allow for the output to be digestible and meaningful.

Consider Implementation Time Frames in Prioritizing Strategies

Prioritize adaptation measures into short-term (0-5 years), medium-term (5-10 years), and long-term (10+ years) actions based on both the urgency of adapting (how soon the DOT needs to implement the strategy to protect against the projected climate changes) and the time period of implementation (how long it will take to implement the adaptation strategy based on planning, funding, and construction/programming time). The matrix of Climate Sensitive Decisions in Appendix A provides initial insight into the implementation time period by identifying the frequency with which the decisions are made. See the following table for examples of how the time period for implementation and the level of urgency could factor into strategy prioritization.

Table 7. Adaptation Strategy Prioritization, Implementation, Time and Urgency
Adaptation Strategies Time Period for Implementation Level of Urgency Prioritization
Strategy takes 0-5 years to implement, but does not need to be undertaken for another 30 years Short Low Low
Strategy takes 0-5 years to implement, but should be undertaken now in order to be effective Short High Medium
Strategy takes 30 years to implement, but should be undertaken now to ensure effectiveness Long High High
Strategy should be undertaken in the near term because it will influence future decisions (e.g., long-term plans) Ongoing Medium Medium

In addition, consider the existing repair and replacement cycle before implementing a stand-alone project. Proactive measures often make sense for high-value assets or assets that would be catastrophically damaged during extreme weather events, while continuous repair/maintenance (i.e., opportunistic adaptation efforts) is often the best approach for preparing for smaller, more frequent events and for assets that are less vulnerable to climate change.

4. Determine Improvements in Capabilities Necessary for Successful Implementation

Successful implementation of adaptation measures may require more overarching enhancements to the agency's capabilities. As described in Section II.E. FHWA has developed a primer that outlines six dimensions of capability that are closely associated with more effective TSMO activities (including those related to reducing climate change impacts).27

Improvements in one or more of these capabilities may be necessary to successfully implement the adaptation strategies discussed under "Identify Potential Adaptation Strategies." Table 8 denotes which of the above capabilities apply to a range of potential adaptation strategies.

Table 8. Example Adaptation Strategies and Capability Maturity Framework Categories.
Adaptation Strategies Capability Maturity Framework Category
Business processes Systems & Technologies Performance Management Culture Organization& Workforce Collaboration Maintenance
Modify current design and procurement criteria to favor durable materials and designs (e.g., paints, paving materials, drainage features), factoring in likely future climate conditions. X X X X X
Develop a system to track weather-related trends and costs over time (e.g., number of potholes repaired, snow removal costs, number of emergency event triggers, labor hours devoted to weather preparation, response, and recovery), such as through designated "weather-related"charge codes. X X X
Establish stand-by contracts for extreme event response. X X

Provide a strategy for identifying trends in weather for budget setting,accounting for the fact that historical conditions are not necessarily representative of future conditions under a changing climate.

  • Consider weighting previous years differently. If higher cost years are weighted more heavily, they can provide a buffer in the budget.
  • In addition to a short-term average of previous year costs, consider looking at a longer trend line in costs and applying an incremental increase in the budget to account for the trend.
  • Consider adding a buffer in the budget forecast to account for the uncertainty in coming weather conditions.
Consider the life-cycle costs of resiliency investments and savings in budgeting and design. X
Use asset management systems to track relevant information to inform decision making over time. X
Incorporate future TSMO and maintenance needs into planning, design, and construction (e.g., require operations and maintenance signature approval on certain contracts and plans). X X X
Require after-action reports with clear recommendations for improvement following extreme events. X
Update emergency response plans to factor in potential for greater frequency of extreme weather events. X
Improve intra-agency coordination, information sharing about conditions, closures, resources, etc. X X
Improve inter-agency coordination, information sharing about plans, initiatives, risks, resources, etc. (e.g., include key stakeholders in routine communications to streamline process during emergency events). X X
Harden emergency telecommunications systems. X
Invest in redundant communications systems. X
Invest in redundant data servers. X
Develop and track performance metrics related to extreme weather (e.g., number/duration of weather-related road closures). X X
Purchase equipment, factoring in likely future needs based on extreme weather events or climate changes (e.g., versatile equipment in Alabama to double as snow plows, mobile stockpiles of traffic control devices). X X
Improve cross-training across staff (including across operations, maintenance, and emergency management). X X X X
Develop a system to track weather trends over time (e.g., Winter Severity Index, Summer Severity Index). X X
Improve tracking of maintenance expenses and operational disruptions, including their cause and severity, and incorporate that information into budgeting processes over time. X X X
Stockpile materials (e.g., culvert pipe, temporary bridge components, fuel) and equipment (e.g., generators, chain saws, traffic control devices) and stage them in strategic areas prior to events. X
Expand both coverage and quality of fixed and mobile monitoring capabilities within the agency. X
Increase coverage of real-time weather and roadway conditions using a combination of on-the-ground staff (and potentially citizens), sensors, and mobile technology. X X
Establish honest and continued dialogue with the public about funding shortfalls, climate change, and prioritizations and realistic expectations of road clearance and level of service. X
Establish regular coordination between on-the-ground staff and other departments to discuss "hot spot" areas and inform investment decisions based on past performance. X X X X X
Leverage existing technologies such as RWIS to provide additional insight on climate change or respond to climate change. For example, portable RWIS could be deployed in areas that are particularly vulnerable to climate changes such as areas of flooding or extreme heat, and assist with tracking trends. X
Use Maintenance Decision Support Systems (MDSS) or other existing tools to run a series of hypothetical future storm events in order to inform operational planning exercises. X
Develop culture of information sharing, transition planning to ensure institutional knowledge is not vulnerable to retirement, workforce transitions, etc. X
Establish regular, structured discussion and collaboration between State DOTs, the National Weather Service, State climatologists, US Geological Survey (USGS), and other relevant partners. X X

Conduct table-top exercises or develop an approach for using "routine" emergencies to determine lines and communication and protocols (e.g., what to do when there is heavy snow blocking access to a hospital).

Potentially include the public in practice drills (e.g., contraflow lanes).

Review and consider mitigating vulnerabilities when conducting scheduled maintenance activities. X

F. Monitor and Revisit

Monitoring and evaluating helps keep adaptation efforts on track as new information on climate risks emerges, evidence of the effectiveness of adaptation strategies becomes available, or other programmatic changes occur. Monitoring and evaluating serve to assess progress toward goals and objectives. These functions help an agency identify which activities are working well and which ones need to be refined.

The FHWA Framework28 describes the following steps as key to efforts to monitor and revisit:

  • Establish a monitoring and evaluation plan.
  • Engage stakeholders.
  • Monitor and collect data on relevant indicators.
  • Evaluate the project and its outcomes.
  • Revisit.

TSMO and maintenance programs are flexible (much more so than infrastructure planning and design decisions) and can evolve as conditions change.

Monitoring trends in extreme weather events (such as frequency of particular events as well as impacts on TSMO and maintenance) and evaluating the effectiveness of actions will help to continually inform decision making. Monitoring trends in extreme weather events, for example, can help decision makers recognize when they need to manage for "new normal" conditions. As mentioned above, climate change refers to significant variations in temperature, precipitation, wind patterns, and other measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time. It may be decades before there is a robust enough set of data to attribute changes in trends to climate change. Such attribution is not necessary, though, to recognize that what once was rare is now routine.

Further, collection, storage, and analysis of monitoring weather data and the impacts of extreme weather events on TSMO, maintenance, and emergency managers (e.g., through post-event assessments and documentation) may be integrated into existing asset management systems or other systems to facilitate continuous or on-demand evaluation of the effectiveness of existing practices. This can also help to assess the need to revisit assumptions, underlying data, approaches, or program goals and objectives articulated at the outset.

Getting Started: Data Collection Best Practices

The more transportation agencies understand the effects of weather events on their system and how those events are changing over time, the better they can make decisions about how to plan for or otherwise manage these events. Understanding changing weather effects requires collecting data and other metrics. DOTs routinely collect and analyze large amounts of data on their operations and systems. As a result, the most effective way to collect additional information that will enable DOTs to learn about the effects of climate change will be to integrate data collection and analysis into existing processes. Potential existing processes that could serve as a "home" for weather and climate tracking include asset management programs, work order or labor tracking systems, weather severity indices, and performance measures.

Asset Management Programs

State DOTs are in the process of developing risk-based Transportation Asset Management Plans (TAMPs), in fulfillment of MAP-21 requirements. TAMPs and associated asset management systems provide an opportunity for DOTs to integrate climate change risks alongside the other risks to transportation systems. Additional guidance is forthcoming from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) on integrating climate change and extreme weather into TAMPs.29 Below are some steps DOTs can take to capitalize on their asset management efforts to help inform their decision making around climate change.

  • Incorporate fields into asset management system(s) to track the climate change or weather-related vulnerabilities of each asset, if known through a vulnerability assessment.
  • Configure the system to provide alerts when vulnerable assets are due for maintenance, repair, or replacement.
  • Incorporate fields to help monitor vulnerabilities and effectiveness of adaptation over time. Example fields may include:
    • Maintenance instances, including specific cause (flooding, extreme heat, extreme cold, etc. – more than just "weather-related") and cost.
    • Flooding frequency.
    • Work order frequency.
  • Incorporate fields that can help identify whether assets may be vulnerable. Example fields are listed based on relevant climate stressors:30
  • Temperature changes:
    • Pavement binder.
    • Material type/pavement type.
    • Joint type.
    • Annual average daily truck traffic.
  • Flooding:
    • Elevation.
    • Design standard (e.g., 25-yr, 50-yr, 100-yr).
    • For culverts: percent change in peak design flow required for overtopping.31
    • For bridges: approach elevation, span elevation, navigation vertical clearance.
    • Condition.
  • Any stressor:
    • Structure type.
    • Remaining useful life.
    • Age.
    • Usage (e.g., average annual daily traffic).
    • Detour length.
    • Historic status.
    • Criticality.
    • Whether the asset is component of a designated evacuation route.

Work Orders or Labor Tracking Systems

DOTs typically have systems in place to track employee activities and expenses, at least to an extent. DOTs can leverage these systems to better track the impacts of weather events over time by creating work order numbers, charge codes, or similar codes tied specifically to weather events.

  • Set up work order codes for:
    • Individual weather events (specific storms), or
    • Categories of weather events (heat, snow/ice, rain, storm).
  • Instruct staff to charge their time and expenses to the appropriate work order code. This will allow tracking of agency costs including:
    • Labor costs – regular and overtime.
    • Contractor costs.
    • Materials costs.
    • Equipment costs.
  • Associate societal impacts the agency is already monitoring with specific weather events or event types. These impacts may include:
    • Delays.
    • Accidents.
    • Fatalities

Using Work Order Numbers to Track Weather Event Costs

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) began creating unique work order numbers for weather events in 2012, beginning with Hurricane Sandy.

SEPTA created a unique work order number in advance of the storm and instructed staff to use that number for any time or materials spent on storm preparation, response, and recovery.

As a result, SEPTA captured a much fuller picture of the impacts of Sandy on their operations than they had for previous storms. For example, SEPTA recorded more than $1.3 million in labor costs, nearly ten times the labor costs recorded during previous tropical storms—storms that were much more destructive to SEPTA than Sandy. Reference: ICF International, 2013, A Vulnerability and Risk Assessment of SEPTA's Regional Rail: A Transit Climate Change Adaptation Assessment Pilot, Federal Transit Administration (FTA Report No. 0071), available at:, accessed May 20, 2015.

Weather Severity Indices

Many DOTs (including Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Idaho, Minnesota, and Ontario) maintain a "Winter Severity Index" or similar metric that allows them to compare their seasonal expenditures to the relative severity of winter weather.32 DOTs use these indices to identify efficiencies in winter weather response over time and inform budget forecasts. DOTs may consider tracking similar severity indices for other types of weather events that affect their operations. For example:

  • Summer severity index – This may include calculation of degree-days above a certain temperature threshold, similar to how the energy sector tracks cooling degree-days.
  • Flooding severity index.
  • Wildfire season severity index.
  • Storm season severity index – tracking the frequency and severity of convective thunderstorm or other storms on a more seasonal basis.
  • Drought severity index (these already exist in other sectors—such as the Palmer Drought Severity Index—and would be available from the U.S. Drought Monitor or other agencies within the State).

In addition, DOTs may consider identifying specific impacts associated with climate changes and tracking the frequency of these impacts over time. This could provide a way to simplify the data tracking process by focusing on 1 to 2 key metrics of vulnerabilities over time, such as those in Table 9.

Table 9. Example Metrics to Track Impacts of Climate Stressors over Time.
Climate Stressor Impact Metrics
Extreme Heat Pavement rutting/shoving Concrete joint heaving
Flooding (rain-driven or coastal) Road closures associated with flooding (frequency, duration) Washouts associated with flooding
Wind Road closures associated with high winds
Drought Pavement cracks
Changes in Freeze/Thaw Potholes
Permafrost Thaw Timing of permafrost thaw

Performance Measures

Finally, linking agency performance measures that are already tracked and analyzed to weather, where appropriate, can be a good way to "mainstream" weather impact data collection. See Section III.E.I for additional information on linking performance measures to climate change.

Potential Pitfalls of Data Collection

Potential (but avoidable) pitfalls to implementing any of these data collection strategies do exist. DOTs should note these possible drawbacks early and take steps to avoid them.

  • Data Storage - DOTs need the IT infrastructure to house what could become potentially large datasets over time. Coordinate with the IT department to ensure the data collection plan is sustainable from their perspective.
  • Staff Time - Data cannot inform decision making without first being analyzed. Analysis of these data sources needs to be expressly integrated into someone's job in order for that analysis to happen. The purpose of the approaches outlined above is to identify opportunities to integrate climate and weather impact tracking data into existing data collection and analysis efforts to minimize the risk that data go unused.

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12 S. Lockwood, J. O’laughlin, D. Keever, and K. Weiss, NCHRP Report 525: Surface Transportation Security Volume 6 – Guide for Emergency Transportation Operations, Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, 2005. Available online at: [ Return to note 12. ]

13 FHWA, Climate Change and Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Framework, FHWA-HEP-13-005 (Washington, DC, 2012). Available at: [ Return to note 13. ]

14 FHWA, Virtual Framework for Vulnerability Assessment. Available online at: Last accessed June 28, 2015. [ Return to note 14. ]

15 FHWA, Regional Climate Change Effects: Useful Information for Transportation Agencies, May 10, 2010. Available at: [ Return to note 15. ]

16Module 2 of the FHWA Virtual Framework is available online at: [ Return to note 16. ]

17 J. Walsh, D. Wuebbles, et al. Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment, “Ch. 2: Our Changing Climate,” U.S. Global Change Research Program, 19-67, 2014. Accessible at: [ Return to note 17. ]

18 FHWA, FHWA Virtual Adaptation Framework Climate Change Adaptation Case Studies and Resources. Available at: [ Return to note 18. ]

19 WSDOT, Climate Impacts Vulnerability Assessment Report, November 2011. Available at: [ Return to note 19. ]

20 The historical Weather Event Archives are not always easy to find on NWS Regional Forecast Office web pages, but are usually housed under the Climate section. [ Return to note 20. ]

21 FHWA Virtual Adaptation Framework. Available at: [ Return to note 21. ]

22 U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. DOT Gulf Coast Study, Phase 2, "Task 3.1: Screen for Vulnerability," FHWA-HEP-15-019 (Washington, DC, 2014). Available at: [ Return to note 22. ]

23 The FHWA Office of Operations has prepared multiple resources for agencies looking to develop and track performance measurement that are relevant to TSMO. There resources are available at: [ Return to note 23. ]

24 FHWA Operations Performance Measurement Fundamentals. Available at: [ Return to note 24. ]

25 U.S. Department of Transportation, FHWA and Federal Transit Administration, Advancing Metropolitan Planning for Operations: The Building Blocks of a Model Transportation Plan Incorporating Operations - A Desk Reference, April 2010. Available at: [ Return to note 25. ]

26 In October of 2012, FHWA launched INVEST 1.0 (Infrastructure Voluntary Evaluation Sustainability Tool), a web-based tool that helps transportation agencies incorporate sustainability considerations into their transportation programs and projects. The tool contains a module focused on operations and maintenance that enables agencies to self-assess their operations and maintenance activities with regard to sustainability. The tool is available online at: [ Return to note 26. ]

27 FHWA Office of Operations, Creating an Effective Program to Advance Transportation System Management and Operations: Primer, FHWA-HOP-12-003 (Washington, DC, 2012). Available at: [ Return to note 27. ]

28 FHWA Virtual Framework for Vulnerability Assessment, Available online at: [ Return to note 28. ]

29 NCHRP 25-25/Task 94 (Active), "Integrating Climate Change and Extreme Weather Into Transportation Asset Management Plans,", accessed May 20, 2015. [ Return to note 29. ]

30 U.S. Department of Transportation, "Transportation Climate Change Sensitivity Matrix," Available at:, accessed May 20, 2015. [ Return to note 30. ]

31 MnDOT, MnDOT Flash Flood Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment Pilot Project, Final report prepared for the Minnesota DOT and the USDOT FHWSA by Parsons Brinckerhoff and Catalysis Adaptation Partners, 2014. [ Return to note 31. ]

32 Will Farr and Leigh Sturges, 2012, Utah Winter Severity Index Phase 1, Utah Department of Transportation, available at:, accessed May 20, 2015. [ Return to note 32. ]

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