These days it seems like we are witnessing climate changes unfold right before our very eyes.
It's not our imagination.
The nature of our seasons is changing. Spring blooms come earlier. Summer is more humid with a documented increase in extreme localized flash flood events...and more frequent droughts. Fall lingers longer. Lakes freeze up later. Winters are shorter and noticeably, measurably milder. New plants are able to thrive in Minnesota's milder climate.
We're all living witnesses to rapid climate changes in our lifetime. This is no longer your grandparents "Minnesota."
In 2013 at MPR we're devoting more coverage to the science behind and the growing effects of our changing climate in Minnesota and around the globe. You can hear me discuss the week's top climate stories in our new "Climate Cast" every Thursday morning at 9:50am with Kerri Miller on The Daily Circuit.
Every Thursday, MPR meteorologist Paul Huttner joins The Daily Circuit to talk about the latest research on our changing climate and the consequences that we're seeing here in Minnesota and worldwide.
Deforested hillside in South Dakota's Black Hills: A growing effect in the West from warmer temperatures, reduced precipitation and increased insect infestations as trees come under more stress.
Image: Paul Huttner - MPR News
Climate Cast for January 24th, 2013
Wintery cold snap belies longer term winter warming trends:
The rumors are true.
Compared to the 1970s, distinct trends show we're losing some of our "cold weather mojo" in Minnesota.
This week's arctic blast reminds us that climate change does not mean the end of traditional winter weather in Minnesota.
Yet our winters are trending noticeably, measureably warmer.
There are many way to measure climate changes in Minnesota and around the globe.
One distinct trend emerging is the unmistakable trend of milder winters in the past 40 years in Minnesota and the northern USA. Minnesota winters have warmed +2F to +4F in the past 40 years.
The number of sub-zero nights in the Twin Cities has dropped from an average of about 35 days per year in the 1970s, to 22.5 in the latest set of 30 year averages. (1981-2010)
The "trend lines" for sub zero nights in the Twin Cities suggest we'll be closer to an average of 10 per year by 2030, and close to zero by 2040.
The Twin Cities NWS elaborates on this week's cold snap, and the record it broke for the longest streak without a sub-zero high temperature in the Twin Cities.
Streak With Highs of 0°F or Above Has Ended After 4 Years And 6 Days
Sunday, January 20, 2013 marked the 1,466th consecutive day, (4 years and 6 days), with high temperatures of 0°F or greater at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. With a high temperature of -2°F degrees on January 21st, 2013, the streak has come to an end.
The streak shattered the previous record by 324 days. Before January 21st, 2013, the last time the high temperature at the Minneapolis airport was below zero was on January 15, 2009 when the thermometer climbed to only -6°F.
Seeley: Major reduction in frequency of -40F nights in northern Minnesota?
One more way to measure our changing winter climate in Minnesota is to look at the frequency of temperatures reaching the -40F threshold in northern Minnesota each winter.
Why do we care?
Temps of -40F are effective killers of invasive pests that can decimate our prized forests.
According to this week's Weather Talk, Mark Seeley illustrates how the -42F reading in Embarrass this week is an increasingly rare occurrence.
Here's a preview:
I examined the climate records of 8 northern Minnesota climate stations that showed some frequency in their history of reporting -40 degrees F or colder. I then compared the relative frequency of such temperature measurements over the period from 1951 to 1980 against the more recent period of 1981-2010. The results showed the following shift in frequency:
Location 1951-1980 1981-2010 (percent change)
Baudette 31 days 12 days (-61 percent)
Roseau 24 days 15 days (-38 percent)
International Falls 21 days 16 days (-24 percent)
Big Falls 34 days 22 days (-35 percent)
Itasca State Park 17 days 11 days (-35 percent)
Warroad 16 days 10 days (-63 percent)
Thorhult 31 days 23 days (-26 percent)
Waskish 12 days 15 days (+25 percent)
Thus 7 of the 8 climate stations show a significant drop in the frequency of -40 F or colder. Concerning this change in frequency of such temperatures and its potential impact on Minnesota, Dr. Lee Frelich, University of Minnesota Forest Ecologist comments: "An invasive species from Asia, the emerald ash borer, has killed tens of millions of ash trees in Michigan, Ohio, and southern Ontario, and is also likely to be killed by -40 temperatures (or perhaps even -30). It arrived a few years ago in the Twin Cities, where its probably not cold enough in winter these days to kill the insect.
Whether it will be able to kill millions of ash trees in the ash swamps of northern Minnesota could depend on winter minimum temperatures and a warmer climate in the future.
Ahead of the Curve? Some companies already adapting business models to climate changes
Ever heard of the concept of "Climate Resilience?"
Some famous companies in corporate America have.
Forward thinking companies like Starbucks and Levi Strauss already recognize that climate changes are affecting their bottom line, and they're taking action to mitigate, even profit from the effects of climate change.
Victor Lipman expands on this idea in Forbes...that's right...Forbes... this week.
Climate change has arrived. 2012 is in the books as one of the warmest years on record, and extreme costly weather events are becoming the norm rather than the exception. Against this backdrop, the debate is slowly migrating from partisan wrangling over the existence of climate change to more productive efforts to think creatively about how to prepare for it.
My interest here is not to make the case for climate change - many far more knowledgeable than I have already done so - but to show how some f0rward-thinking companies are taking tangible, constructive steps to anticipate it and mitigate its impact. This new but growing discipline is known as "Climate Resilience."
A diverse group of organizations, working with environmentally oriented consultants, have produced an excellent, comprehensive report titled "Value Chain Climate Resilience: A Guide To Managing Climate Impacts in Companies and Communities." The companies involved in the report include Starbucks, Swiss Re, Levi Strauss, Calvert Investments, Earth Networks, Entergy and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. The consulting firms involved include Acclimatise, Oxfam America and BSR.
"The climate is changing and impacts on businesses and communities are already being felt. Rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and more severe weather events are being observed. Nine out of ten companies have suffered weather-related impacts in the past three years, and most have seen an intensification of such impacts. Meanwhile, communities on which businesses depend for their supplies, workforce, sales, and more are being affected. A change in climate will lead to a changing business environment and changing community relationships...
Starbucks works with Conservation International to "promote environmental leadership" among its coffee growers in countries including Costa Rica and Rwanda. Such leadership can include conservation of water, soil and biological diversity. Simple actions such as building coffee shade canopy covers can help farmers prepare for a future with possibly hotter temperatures and scarcer water.
Levi Strauss & Co., dependent on cotton for its apparel products, is part of a Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), which seeks to improve the way the cotton is grown globally. BCI, for instance, helps cotton farmers with techniques that enable them to use less pesticides and water, such as increasing the development of border crops and irrigation systems.
Swiss Re, a global provider of reinsurance and insurance, works innovatively with "cash-poor farmers" in Ethiopia. The farmers have an option "to work for their insurance premiums by engaging in community-identified projects to reduce risk and build climate resilience, such as improved irrigation or soil management."
Still don't "believe" in climate change? Ask your insurance company if climate change is affecting their losses, and the premiums you pay.
Are East Coast residents "sitting ducks" for the next big Superstorm?
It took Mother Nature decades to build up natural dunes along the East Coast that provided at least some protection from flooding during incoming storms.
Hurricane Sandy wiped them out in a few hours.
Outgoing USGS Director Marcia McNutt sounded an alarm this week about how much of the USA's East Coast sits defenseless from major storms. Sandy was a Category 1 hurricane. What happens next time when the "Big One" ...a Category 3 or higher monster hurricane slams ashore along the most densely populated coastline in the USA?
Climate Central's Andrew Freedman expands.
"Superstorm Sandy was a threshold for the north-east and we have already crossed it," McNutt told the National Council for Science and the Environment conference in Washington. "For the next storm, not even a super storm, even a run-of-the-mill nor'easter, the amount of breaches and the amount of coastal flooding will be widespread."
McNutt, a professor of marine geophysics, was careful to preface her public remarks by saying she spoke as a scientist and not an Obama Administration official. But the unusually stark warning from a departing Obama official indicates the challenges ahead in protecting American population centers from the extreme storms of a changing climate.
"Before Sandy, someone asked me what my climate change nightmare was. Before Sandy, I said it was that with the extra energy in the atmosphere-ocean system it feeds super storms that intersect mega-cities left rendered defenseless by rising seas," McNutt said in a brief interview following her public remarks. "That is where we now are."
Half of America's population lives within 50 miles of a coast, and those numbers are growing. However, scientists and urban planners have warned repeatedly that those coastal communities - as well as important infrastructure - are increasingly vulnerable. In the coming decades, a combination of extreme weather and storm surges, on top of rising seas, will put a growing share of the population at risk. Natural defenses, such as sand dunes and barrier islands along the Atlantic, have been destroyed or weakened through decades of development, McNutt said.
"We have left our coasts sitting ducks, and Sandy destroyed these natural protections," she said.
Climate Cast resources:
Want to know more about climate change? Here are few quick links to credible climate change sources.
-NOAA NCDC's "State of the Climate" report
-Great summary of Modern Day Climate Change from SUNY-Suffolk
-Minnesota Climate Working Group climate change resources
-Mark Seeley's Weather Talk
-Common climate change myths
-Climate change in the news from Climate Central
As a lifelong Minnesotan who grew up in the Twin Cities between 1962 and 1982, I can confirm that winters have become increasingly mild, and that northern Minnesota winters are currently more like the Twin Cities winters of the 1970s.
I've lived here in the North for more than 30 years, and have been a cooperative observer for the National Weather Service for the past 15 years. The occurrence of mid-winter rains is something I don't remember from my youth, and the decrease in the amount and depth of sub-zero cold is stunning, especially when I look at the trend to the south. Twin Cities winters in no way resemble those of the past, and the teaming masses who have moved there in recent decades have no idea what the traditional winter of our ancestors entailed.