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How Recent Warming Will Affect Minnesota

J. DRAKE HAMILTON
Science Policy Director, Fresh Energy

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released data that show that the winter period December 2006 through February 2007 was the warmest winter on record, globally. In 2006, an IPCC report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) said that the likelihood that warming in the past and future was due to human activity was 90%.

Climate change is already impacting Minnesota and the Midwest region. Growing evidence suggests that our winters are getting shorter and warmer, average annual temperatures are higher, and extreme heat events are occurring more frequently. The duration of lake ice cover is decreasing as air and water temperatures rise. Heavy precipitation events are becoming more common.

Projections of how Minnesota’s climate may change under business-as-usual emissions scenarios indicate that we may be in for very significant and unpleasant changes. According to a scientific study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Ecological Society of America (2003, updated 2005), Minnesota’s climate will grow considerably warmer and probably drier during this century. The future impacts will be felt most strongly in the summer. By 2095, Minnesota’s summers could resemble those of current-day Kansas. Minnesota could expect to see a 7-16 degree F rise in summer temperatures by the end of the century. Although average annual precipitation may not change much, overall the region may grow drier because of the drying effects of increased evaporation and transpiration in a warmer climate. Extreme heat will be more common, with negative impacts on human health. Heavy rainstorms, both 24-hour and multi-day downpours, could be twice as common as today. Recent studies show that in the last few decades, precipitation in North America is increasingly the result of a few downpours, rather than lots of rain showers. Downpours cause flooding and property damage, and are less useful in agriculture than frequent soft rains. Declines in ice cover on Lake Superior and inland lakes have been recorded over the past 100-150 years in Minnesota, and are expected to continue.

There are prudent and responsible actions that citizens and policy makers can take now. Most importantly, Minnesota, and every state, needs to aggressively reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. We need to reduce the vulnerability of our waters and ecosystems, and safeguard the economy of our state by acting now to slow the rate of change. If the pace and severity of climate change is made more moderate by reducing emissions rates, many of the most damaging impacts of climate change can be avoided.

International Governmental Panel on Climate Change, www.ipcc.ch/

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center
ncdc.noaa.gov/

Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region: Impacts on Our Communities and Ecosystems, George Kling and Donald Wuebbles, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2005.
ucsusa.org/greatlakes/

Hell and High Water: Global Warming-the Solution and the Politics-and What We Should Do, Joseph Romm, William Morrow, 2006.

Fresh Energy
St. Paul, MN, 651-225-0878
fresh-energy.org

Minnesota Department
of Commerce
St. Paul, MN, 651-296-4026
mn.gov/commerce/

How Warming Affects Minnesota

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