Climate: Minnesota is Changing

Climate: Minnesota is Changing

To those who keep weather or water records or who study natural phenomenon, climate change became visible in Minnesota in the late 80s and early 90s. Gradually, more of us began to notice the change. We may have thought of it as “crazy weather,” not realizing that it signified something bigger was happening.

Now we’ve got a few decades of data showing the trajectory of climate change in our state and it’s a big shift. If you thought our weather was variable before … well, just wait until you see what’s next. This is what we’re likely to see in coming years:

We’re still cold, but not as cold as we used to be. Winter isn’t going away, but it’s not going to look the same. It’s starting later and ending earlier. We’ve had more rain when in years past we would have had snow. We’ve experienced unusual midwinter warming (March 2012 was a record setting heat wave).

No, we can’t say that any particular weather event is caused by climate change. Climate is a trend, not an event. But when we add up all these events, it adds up to a pretty big change.

Why that matters:

  • Cold temps used to reliably prevent some nasty pests from finding a full-time home in Minnesota. Not anymore. Bark beetles are one example of a foreign invader.
  • A consistent coating of snow insulates plants through the winter until they are ready to bud again in spring. With later snows and unexpected thaws, trees can suffer significant damage – ruining apple, plum, berry and other crops.
  • Snow melts sooner, which doesn’t help the climate picture. Snow reflects the sun’s light back; bare land holds more heat.

We’re still hot and we can expect to get hotter, which is unfortunate if you remember the extreme heat wave of 2011. At 3:53 in the afternoon, in mid-July, the heat index at the airport was 119°F. Dew point was 82!

Why that matters:

  • The Twin Cities is already a significant heat island (warmer than the areas around it). More heat means more strain on our energy system as the grid tries to keep up with air conditioning demands. (Ironically, all those air conditioners put off a tremendous amount of heat, making outdoor conditions even worse in the metro.)
  • Extreme heat is a significant health issue; in fact, it's a killer.
    • Hot, humid air – the kind we get with 10,000 lakes – can trigger asthma attacks.
    • Allergy sufferers have a longer sneezing season. Ragweed produces more pollen today than it did 100 years ago, and it blooms longer in our extended growing season.
    • High temps can lead to heat stroke, particular for people who work outdoors … as well as heat-stressed plants and animals.
  • Warmer night-time temperatures means fewer tomatoes and roses – both need lower night-time temps to flower and fruit.
  • Hotter air means warmer water, which can make our lakes a breeding ground for disease.

We’ve got water … boy, do we ever. We’ll see fewer spring showers and more torrential rainfalls. The state has already experienced several “once every 100-years” floods.

Why that matters:

  • Flooding brings pollutants into our lakes, streams and the river we rely on for our water supply.
  • Torrential rains are difficult for our aging storm water system to handle. Too much water floods streets, homes and businesses. (See these photos from the storm of 2010.)
  • Flood damage is costly and typically not covered by insurance.

Storm watch on high alert. In 2014, Harold Brooke of the National Severe Weather Lab, reported on the changing nature of storms at a Climate Adaptation Conference in Minneapolis. He said storm activity has shown great variability, but that storm intensity goes up with higher temperatures.

Why that matters

  • Brooke predicts we will see tornado season starting earlier and we could experience night-time tornadoes.
  • We are likely to see bigger storms with greater intensity causing more damage to homes and infrastructure.

We All Need to Do What We Can to Turn Back the Dial on Climate Change

Bill McKibben, co-founder of the climate activism group 350.org, wrote: “[While the Paris climate] agreement won’t save the planet, it may have saved the chance to save the planet (if we all fight like hell in the years ahead).”

Folks in the Transition movement are taking on that fight in myriad ways – changing the way we heat water and space, how we travel, shop and eat. None of these changes will be sufficient and no one person is going to tip the scale, but if every person takes significant action, we will begin to see a difference.

There are hundreds of things you can do. By joining with your neighbors to start or participate in a Transition group in your area, you can build a more resilient, more supportive community that works to stop greenhouse gas production AND helps people adapt to the climate challenges ahead.

Resources

Minnesota is blessed to have several accurate news sources for science-based climate information:

  • Minnesota Climatology Working Group
  • Minnesota Environmental Quality Board: they produced an extensive report on the impacts of climate change
  • MPR Weather Primer
  • Mark Seeley, U of M professor, climatologist and meteorologist. He is active in the NOAA Climate Literacy Program. He writes the weekly newsletter "Minnesota WeatherTalk" and helps produce a weekly science podcast for public radio called "Jet Streaming" and occasionally contributes to the Minnesota Public Radio daily weather blog "Updraft." Follow this link for videos, and materials from his public presentations.
  • Paul Huttner, chief meteorologist for Minnesota Public Radio. He presents a weekly report called "ClimateCast" every Friday. You can find podcasts of it here.
  • Paul Douglas, meteorologist, Republican and evangelical Christian. He writes on weather for the Star Tribune. Click here for a video of a Star Tribune news story on Paul.

Groups Working on Climate