Minnesota’s Climate is Changing
We Need to Prepare for Change
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. Over time, more of us began to notice the changes. We may have thought of it as “crazy weather,” not realizing that it meant something bigger was happening.
Luckily our state has amazing climate resource people available to help us make sense of weather trends. And we’ve got decades of data showing the trajectory of climate change in our state. What it shows is a significant shift. If you thought our weather was variable before … well, just wait until you see what’s next.
How to Talk About Climate v. Weather: It is not correct to say that any particular extreme weather event is “caused” by climate change or is proof that there is no climate change. To understand something as big as climate, we need to look at patterns or trends over the course of years. Also, the climate is a HUGE inter-related system. In order for a small change to show up, a lot of change has to already have happened. So with this in mind, here are the trends reported by Minnesota climatologists.
We’re Still Cold, But Not as Cold as We Used to Be
Winter isn’t going away, but it’s never going to look the same. It’s still cold, because yes … the world still tilts on its axis and orbits around the sun. That doesn’t change. But winter is tending to start later and end earlier. We still have snow, but generally not as much as we did in the past. We’ve experienced unusual midwinter warming, such as the record setting heatwave of March 2012. We have cold snaps, but fewer of them. Why this matters:
- Cold temps used to reliably prevent some nasty pests from making Minnesota their full-time home. Not anymore. Bark beetles and emerald ash borer are two examples of invaders.
- A consistent coat of snow insulates plants through the winter until they are ready to bud again in spring. With later snows and unseasonable thaws, trees and woody shrubs can suffer significant damage to both their roots and their buds – ruining fruit and berry harvests before they even begin and robbing animals and people of needed food.
- Shorter winters mean longer sneezing season for people with allergies. Ragweed, for example, produces more pollen today than it did 100 years ago and it blooms longer.
- We are seeing more instances of icy rain or snow-then-rain, which wreaks havoc on traffic, pedestrians, tree branches and even power lines.
We’re Still Hot and We Can Expect to Get Hotter
The Twin Cities is already a significant “heat island” (an area warmer than the areas that surround it). More heat means more strain on our energy system as the electrical grid tries to keep up with the demand for air conditioning. (Ironically, air conditioners put off a tremendous amount of heat, making outdoor conditions even worse in the metro area.) Why that matters:
- Extreme heat is a killer.
- Hot, humid air – the kind we get with 10,000 lakes – can trigger asthma attacks.
- High temps can cause heat-related illnesses like heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Whose most vulnerable? The elderly and ill, small children, people with diabetes, those without air conditioning, athletes and outdoor workers.
- Don’t forget our heat-stressed plants, food crops and animals. Warmer night-time temperatures mean fewer tomatoes. These and other plants need lower night-time temperatures to produce and retain flowers that turn into your food.
- Hotter air means warmer water, which can make our lakes a breeding ground for water-borne disease.
We’ve Got Water. Boy, Do We Ever
Floods are already hitting Minnesota with increasing frequency in extreme weather events. The rain we get is qualitatively different than we saw in the past. We have fewer spring showers and more torrential rainfalls. Read more about Minnesota’s water trends. Here’s why that matters:
- Torrential rains are difficult for our aging stormwater systems 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.
- Flooding brings pollutants into our lakes, streams and the rivers we rely on for our water supply.
… and Then We Have None
Between torrential rains, we are experiencing longer periods without water. And parts of our state are expected to experience lengthy periods of drought.
Storm Watch on High Alert
In 2014, Harold Brooks 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 and it’s too soon to say if we will have more storms, but what they do know is that storm intensity goes up with the temperature. Why that matters:
- Brooks predicted in 2014 that we would see tornado season starting earlier and we could experience night-time tornadoes by the end of the century. Already in 2017, a tornado touched down in Zimmerman, MN on March 7. That’s months before our regular tornado season begins.
- We are likely to see bigger storms with greater intensity causing more damage to homes and infrastructure.
Video of the 1st of the 6-Part Climate Conversation Series
Take Action: Turn Back the Dial on Climate Change
You can take immediate and direct action to reduce your carbon footprint and transition away from fossil fuels. You can join together with neighbors, coworkers, and members of your faith community to make the switch to renewable energy. You can join with local organizations like the Citizen’s Climate Lobby and MN350 to lobbying business and government to make needed changes. And you can take action to protect our planet’s natural systems so they can do their work of storing carbon.
We know our actions alone won’t be big enough to stop the changes now underway, but it may buy us time to find more and bigger solutions.
In the meantime, we need to help people understand the extreme weather changes we are now and will soon be experiencing. Only then can we take realistic action to prepare for a future that does not look like our past. The time to build resilience is now. Contact Transition Twin Cities for ideas on how to engage your community.
Prepare for the Challenges Ahead
The truth is, the rate of climate change is increasing. It will impact our water, our food supply, and our health. We need to use our time and resources wisely.
- Identify and expand your resources
- Create a plan with your family
- Learn the skills you will need in a severe weather emergency.
- Develop multiple ways of doing things at home, at work, and in communityy. Redundancy is one strategy to adapt to change.
- Build inner resilience so you are more capable of handling emotional challenges.
- Grow stronger, more cohesive communities of support so we’re ready and able to come together.
We are on this journey together.
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