Cleveland's Climate Action Update: Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment 2024




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As part of its effort to update its Climate Action Plan (CAP), the City of Cleveland has developed a revised Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (CRVA). A CRVA helps cities assess the overall vulnerability of their residents to a changing climate and to select appropriate strategies to adapt to these impacts.


The City has reviewed the neighborhoods most vulnerable to climate hazards, which are weather-related events that can negatively affect our community. Through an extensive public engagement process, the City has identified top four priority climate hazards. We have also determined which groups of people and types of community systems are most vulnerable to those four hazards.


Community Engagement

During the Fall and Winter of 2023, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability conducted an extensive community engagement process for this CRVA. The City worked directly and intentionally to engage residents in communities that are on the frontlines of climate change. The City used multiple approaches to understand how Cleveland communities experience climate hazards. It conducted a public survey and held four in-person public engagement sessions in these frontline communities. 


Top Climate Hazards


Based on the results of the survey, focus groups, and public engagement sessions, there are four priority climate hazards for the City of Cleveland: Poor Air Quality, Extreme Heat, Heavy Precipitation and Flooding, and Severe Summer Storms. The table below lists these hazards, along with the three population groups and community systems most vulnerable to each hazard.


Vulnerable population groups are those segments of the population (e.g. children, elderly people, people experiencing homelessness) that are most likely to suffer the negative impacts of climate hazards. Vulnerable community systems are built, natural, and human networks that provide important services to the community most at risk to experience climate hazards.


Poor Air Quality


While air quality has improved significantly, Cleveland continues to struggle with persistent air pollution. Cleveland regularly ranks as one of the country’s “Asthma Capitals,” and it has the seventh highest asthma rate in the country. Across Northeast Ohio, air pollution was responsible for 639-1,439 premature deaths, 12,975 asthma attacks, and more than 63,000 lost workdays during 2016.


Climate change is already worsening the City’s air quality challenges. While emissions of the chemicals that form smog (ground-level ozone) continue to fall, the annual number of days with unhealthy smog levels in Cleveland has stayed roughly the same for the past 10 years. Increased wildfire activity – driven by climate change – occurring in other regions is also affecting levels of smog and soot (fine particulate matter (PM2.5)). The impact of wildfire smoke was particularly apparent during the summer of 2023, when Cleveland experienced the worst and second worst days for air quality on record (respectively June 28 and June 29, 2023).



Downtown Cleveland During and After June 28-29th Wildfire Smoke Event


Climate change will continue to make air quality worse in Cleveland over the coming decades. As summer temperatures continue to rise, the City of Cleveland may see smog levels increase. Average daily smog levels may increase by 1-5 parts per billion (ppb) and up to 10 ppb by 2050 and 2100. Increased rainfall may lower soot (PM2.5) levels in Cleveland in the coming years, but that is not guaranteed. While soot levels may fall under lower warming scenarios, they may actually increase under higher warming scenarios, leading to more negative health effects.



Projected Premature Deaths Associated With Smog Levels in 2095



Projected Changes in Premature Deaths due to Climate Change-Related Soot Pollution

Extreme Heat


Cleveland’s location along Lake Erie has lessened some of the worst impacts of extreme heat. In Cleveland, hot days are days where the high temperature reaches or exceeds 90⁰F. Over the past 50 years (1974-2023), Cleveland experienced 7.8 hot days per year. This number has risen to 10.5 hot days annually since 2010. Record high temperatures have also become more common in recent years. Heat waves, which are periods of abnormally hot weather lasting two or more days, worsen these health risks. The frequency, duration, and intensity of heat waves have all increased in Cleveland from 1961-2021. The average temperatures of these heat waves have increased by 0.85⁰F, and Cleveland’s heat wave season has also grown by 48 days.



Heat Wave Characteristics in 50 Large U.S. Cities (1961-2021)


The impact of extreme heat on Cleveland will only become more apparent in future years. Average daily high temperatures in Cleveland will increase 5.3-6.7⁰F by 2050 and 6.8-11.8⁰F by 2100. The annual number of days with temperatures at or above 90⁰F may increase to 27-34 days by 2050 and to 41-82 by 2100. The number of extreme heat days (days above 95⁰F) may also increase from just one per year currently to 8-11 by 2050 and to 15-47 per year by 2100.


Change in Number of Days with Temperatures above 95⁰F in Cleveland (1950-2100)



The impact of extreme heat on public health and quality of life will be significant. Because Cleveland’s existing climate has largely shielded it from extreme heat of this nature, the city is not well equipped to adapt to these changes. The rate of heat-related deaths in Cleveland may rise by 670% under a lower warming scenario and by 1700% under a high warming scenario.

Heavy Precipitation & Flooding and Severe Summer Storms

While heavy precipitation, flooding, and severe summer storms are distinct climate hazards that the City of Cleveland treated separately in its past CRVA engagement efforts, there are strong connections between the two hazards. Both involve heavy rainfall events and both can involve flooding. As a result, this CRVA addresses these two hazards together.


Since 1950, rainfall in Cleveland has increased by more than 10 inches a year, and this additional rainfall is increasingly falling during heavy storms. Of the 12 days with at least three inches of rainfall in Cleveland, seven have occurred since 2005.


According to Flood Factor, Cleveland is a major flood risk: one in six properties have a greater than 26% chance of being severely affected by flooding in the next 30 years. Critical infrastructure, such as airports, hospitals, fire stations and wastewater treatment facilities are at an even higher risk. From 2013 to 2022, Cleveland experienced four flood events that caused $270,000 in total damages.


Severe summer storms have also taken a toll on Cleveland. From 2013-2022, Cleveland experienced 38 episodes of damaging winds and thunderstorms. These storms caused a total of $2.2 million in damages. From 1950-2023, five tornadoes affected Cleveland, including an EF1 tornado on August 24-25, 2023.


Changes in the Frequency & Severity of Heavy Storm Events


Climate change will further increase heavy precipitation, flooding, and severe summer storms in Cleveland. Annual precipitation will increase to 60.3-61.6 inches by 2050 and to as much as 86.6 inches by 2100. Heavy rainfall events will also increase. The amount of rain falling in the heaviest storms may increase by another 20-40%. Risk Factor projects that the share of properties at flood risk will increase by 8% through 2050.


This table charts the projected changes in climate conditions in the City of Cleveland through the end of the century.

Table 9: Projected Changes in Climate Conditions in Cleveland through 2100

Adaptive Capacity

The City also asked residents to communicate the things most important for increasing their adaptive capacity, which is the ability of a person, asset, or system to adjust to a hazard, take advantage of new opportunities, or cope with change. Based on survey results, the five most important adaptive capacity factors are:


  1. Access to Basic Services
  2. Cost of Living
  3. Access to Healthcare
  4. Infrastructure Conditions and Maintenance
  5. Budgetary Capacity



If the City of Cleveland truly wishes to leverage its advantageous location, it must act now to prepare for the priority climate hazards identified in this report and to help improve the resilience of its vulnerable population groups and community systems. Preparing for climate change is a process, not an outcome. The process is perpetual and evolutionary: The City must continue to revisit and revise this assessment in the coming years as the challenges climate change poses shift and evolve.



If you have any questions about the updated Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment, feel free to reach out to us [email protected].

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  • Brittany Montgomery