Minnesota winters are warming 13 times faster than its summers, U of M scientists say

University of Minnesota scientists reveal the stark dangers climate change poses to the state.
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Scientists from the University of Minnesota described the stark challenges facing the state as a result of climate change at a legislative hearing on Tuesday.

Drs. Tracy Twine and Mark Seeley spoke before lawmakers at the newly-named House Energy and Climate Finance and Policy Division committee, and painted a worrying picture of the future impacts of climate change on Minnesota.

The rise in greenhouse gases and the associated climate change is shifting Minnesota's average temperatures up, leading potentially to more extreme weather events – such as storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires in the summer.

But it's the winter that climate change is particularly affecting in Minnesota, with the state's winters warming 13 times faster than its summers.

Warming Minnesota winters

Minnesota is one of the three fastest-warming states in the nation, according to Twine, of the university's Department of Soil, Water, and Climate.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis and Mankato are two of the three fastest-warming cities in the country.

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Climate change has been having an impact on Minnesota winters for decades now, to the point that there has been a dramatic reduction in extremely cold days in northern parts of the state.

Twine also shared data showing the impact of climate change in winter temperatures in Duluth over the past two decades, noting: "We just don't expect temperatures to be below 10 degrees Fahrenheit in Duluth anymore."

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Because of the Jet stream that oscillates directly above Minnesota, bringing both cold air in the winter and warm air in the summer, Twine says that our state is more susceptible to changes in climate.

We've already seen increases in the amount of precipitation, which has led to widespread flooding across parts of the state in recent years.

And it's only likely to get worse in the future, given that molecules that warm the Earth, such as CO2, can exist in the atmosphere for 20 to 200 years.

Even if carbon emissions were to stop completely today, we would still feel the impact of a warming climate over the coming decades.

"It can’t be overstated that for every incremental change we look at in the global record of the global model … the research shows that it translates into a very highly amplified change in our Minnesota backyard," said Dr. Seeley, a retired U of M meteorologist. "That can’t be overstated."

Impacts on wildlife, economy

While the increase in CO2 and warming climate is helping increase crop yields, that is only expected to be a short-term benefit, lawmakers were told.

Eventually yields will decline due to rising temperatures and farmland will be more susceptible to extreme rain and flooding, as well as an increase in pests and invasive species.

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As Dr. Seeley pointed out, Minnesota's winters could warm to the point that Asian Soybean Rust is able to survive the temperatures, potentially impacting one of Minnesota's biggest cash crops.

The warming winters meanwhile will also take a toll on Minnesota's tourism and recreation industries, as ice conditions on the state's lakes become more unstable.

And the calls of the loon, Minnesota's state bird, could become less frequent as the state's warming winters could encourage loons to leave the state for cooler climes further north.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is a must to slow the rise in global temperatures. Twine points out this is possible, citing the global success in closing the hole in the ozone layer through the banning of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

Tuesday's meeting was the first of several that will look at tackling climate change and mitigating its effects in Minnesota. Another will be held on Thursday.

You can watch Tuesday's hearing here.

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