World leaders met recently at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris to try to agree on ways to limit global warming to 2 degrees C (3.6°F). This temperature change may not sound like much in Minnesota, a place of temperature extremes, but the effects of the over 1°C (2°F) rise so far have been felt in many ways already in the land of 10,000 lakes:
- More and heavier rainstorms and snowfalls throughout the state
- More sticky days with tropical dew points, putting older, younger and sick people at risk for dehydration and heat stress/stroke
- Wildlife populations like the moose and cisco fish are declining, while invasive species like the emerald ash borer are on the rise
These symptoms will worsen as temperatures continue to rise into the future. And the changes we are creating now, most scientists believe, will last for hundreds of years, . One climate change model predicts that by 2095, summers in Minnesota will be more like the current summers of Kansas, while winters will be more like northern Illinois.
According to scientists who study Earth’s climate, the extreme and often bizarre weather we have been experiencing in the last few years is an expected consequence of global warming or climate change.
Our climate, determined by the average of many years of weather events and influenced by major global forces (i.e. the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere), is undeniably warming. Since 1970, winters have warmed by at least 4°F in the top five fastest-warming states—Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Vermont. Here are a few examples of our wilder weather:
In the Northern Hemisphere the west-to-east wind flow in the polar jet stream is slowing and weakening. This creates a more significant north to south meandering of the jet stream which causes weather systems to slow or stall. A stalled weather system leads to more persistent weather conditions: droughts, heat waves, heavy downpours and floods, long cold spells, heavy snows.
The year 2012 set a record for Minnesota wildfires – more than 1,000 wildfires burned over 60,000 acres. In Minnesota and nationwide, wildfires have increased 30% over the average. Drier conditions and a longer burning season can account for some of this increase.
The Upper Midwest has experienced a 37% increase in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events from 1958 to 2012. In June 2012, both Duluth in the northeast and Cannon Falls in the southeast were hit with over 8 inches of rain, causing severe flooding. Then in June 2013, the Twin Cities suffered multiple thunderstorms on consecutive days causing a record number of house fires from lightning strikes and leaving a record 500,000 homes without power. In June 2014 Minnesota’s average rainfall was 7.75”, the wettest month on record and 3.64” above the 20th century average.
Cropland runoff pollution
Extreme weather events will impact Minnesota agriculture. Intense rainfalls can mean intense, high velocity runoff of fertilizers, pesticides and sediment into our rivers and streams — particularly from agricultural fields that do not have best management practices in place. These compounds can have large impacts on the water quality of our rivers and streams.
Sanitary sewer system failures
Super heavy rains can result in wastewater treatment facilities being overwhelmed, leading to the release of untreated sewage into lakes, rivers or streams. These plants were not designed to handle the immense rain storms that we’ve been seeing during the last several years.
Stormwater system overloads
Changes in amount, frequency and intensity of precipitation impact stormwater management, potentially exceeding the design capacity. These additional pressures on the state’s drainage infrastructure can result in events like the 2012 Duluth flood.
Property Insurance rates rising
In 1998, the average Minnesota homeowner’s property insurance premiums were $368. Then came major tornados and straight-line wind storms. The total insured losses in MN in 1998: $1.5-Billion!
By 2011, the average premium was $1056, an increase of more than 286% in twelve years. Storms are the main reason for increased premiums.
Help treat climate fever in Minnesota
Just like treating a fever, there are things that we can do to address the cause of climate change. It all comes down to reducing our energy use. There’s a lot that you can do to make a difference:
- Drive less and bike or bus more
- Eat less red meat and more vegetables
- Don’t waste food
- Buy less stuff, and on the other end, try to reuse and recycle
- Set thermostats higher in summer and lower in winter
- Plant trees
- Advocate for public policies that address climate change, like clean energy and efficient transportation options