Over the next couple decades Minnesota will see winters warm to the point that lakes no longer freeze!
As discussed in my last blog, the Earth has been warming for a while, with most of the excess heat being absorbed by the ocean. We are now seeing the results of this through the melting of polar ice. As the polar ice melts, the places on land that will warm the fastest are in high northern latitudes, with Minnesota being the second fastest warming state behind Alaska.
How Will This Impact Us Here in Minnesota?
Overall, we will have more very warm months. This does not mean we will never see very cold months; they will just happen less often. Since 1950 we have lost about two weeks of below freezing weather. In the next 80 years Minnesota will lose about a month of below freezing weather. We will also gain more than a month of days above 90 degrees.
This means we will have less lake ice and we will start to see lakes in Minnesota remain unfrozen during winter. By the end of the century we could see lakes not freezing during winter as far north as Brainard. Of course, we will also see the average coldest day getting increasingly warmer, by as much as 10 to 15 degrees. This will impact plant life and farming. Minnesota will look more like Northern Missouri and Iowa in terms of plant type. We will also see more pests that survive through the winter and new pests migrating into Minnesota.
One of the bigger impacts will be an increase in the amount of annual precipitation and the number of storms. Minnesota will get up to 3 or 4 more severe storms. This will include increases in the number of dangerous and damaging hailstorms. Western and southern Minnesota have already become wetter. Counties in southeast Minnesota consistently get four or more inches of rain over past totals. Overall Minnesota is expected to get significantly wetter by 15 or 20 % in the fall and winter. However, this trend also indicates less snowfall, with 50% or more less snow. Because of the warmer weather, the increased winter precipitation will come in the form of sleet and ice rain and there will be fewer days with snow on the ground.
Meanwhile, the summer may actually get dryer. We will see a decrease in the number of days with light or no rainfall and when it does rain there will be an increase in the amount of rain that falls with more mega rain events that have 8 inches or more rain at the core. This will have a huge impact on soil conditions, with soil alternating between drying out and washing away. We will also see an increase in the number of months with extreme drought. To combat this, farmers and landowners will need to change the way they manage their land.
Our forests will also change. Our coniferous forests of the north will be challenged and most likely die off, being replaced by deciduous and oak forests. The south will be more prairie-like. Torrential rainfalls, heat waves and hot droughts will kill plants and increase dry land resulting in prairie like conditions over a large part of the state.
What Can We Do About it?
The Paris Climate Agreement focused on keeping temperatures worldwide from increasing less than 2 degrees Celsius. To do this, we need to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The longer we wait to act, the harsher the action to reduce these emissions will need to be. In 2007 Minnesota passed the Next Generation Energy Act that aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. We did not hit our 2015 goals and will probably not hit our 2025 goal.
Some of the proposal for doing this were outlined on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website and include: investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy, strengthening efforts around land use and mass transit, addressing agricultural production issues that affect carbon storage, and investing in protecting Minnesota’s wetlands, forests, prairies, and other native habitats. The best goal for Minnesota is to aim for a net zero greenhouse gases.
I believe that humans are incredibly resourceful and innovative. It is time we start asking ourselves how we can meet our energy needs in the least damaging way. It will take a collective effort to meet this new challenge and it will not be an easy path, but we have the ability to meet this challenge if we chose to.