• Left: Shovelling snow off a roof in Dartmouth, N.S., March 2015. (Photo courtesy: Danielle Bonnar) Right: The user interface of the new Climate Change Hazards Information Portal, which predicts climate change impacts so engineers and planners can mitigate risks to infrastructure and the public. (Image courtesy: Risk Sciences International)

After a dry, mild start, the winter of 2014/15 saw Halifax quickly descend into snowy chaos. Storm after storm dumped close to three metres of snow on the city in February and March — more than any two-month period in the previous 10 years. The roofs of buildings buckled under the weight of the snow; near the end of March, Halifax firefighters responded to four collapses in a single weekend.

For Erik Sparling, Director of Climate Risk Decision Support at Ottawa-based Risk Sciences International (RSI), Halifax's challenges are just one example of the need for better planning in Canada as climate change causes extreme weather events to become more frequent and severe.

"Climate change really ups the ante for everything from municipal planning to infrastructure design," Sparling says. "We can’t afford to have design values grossly outdated because it’s a moving target now."

On Wednesday, RSI unveiled their answer to the problem of climate adaptation: the Climate Change Hazards Information Portal (CCHIP), a web-based application that predicts how climate change might affect a certain area in the future. Combining 100 years of historical climate and weather data with insights from 40 IPCC-backed climate prediction models, the tool is able to predict climate-change-related impacts and hazards down to an area of 10 square kilometres.

Users are given a series of prompts based on their specific project or area of expertise to ensure they receive the most relevant information. For example, someone assessing a bridge might be prompted to look at the maximum wind speed the bridge is designed to withstand, how many times that wind speed has been exceeded in the past century and how likely those conditions are to occur again in the future.

Sparling hopes CCHIP will be used by everyone from engineers and architects to municipal planners to create infrastructure that can withstand weather extremes.

"Already, organizations like the National Building Commission are looking hard at integrating climate change into design values, which could mean projected values," he says. "If you’re building a building that’s going to be in place for 50 years, maybe you should be using assumptions about climate conditions 50 years from now."

CCHIP will be available for beta testing later this spring; for more information on how to get involved in the beta test, visit the website.