It’s easy to find predictions of the global impact of climate change coming from the scientific community — temperature extremes, drought and flooding, giant storm systems. In fact, we’re already seeing the effects because the climate has ALREADY CHANGED. What has been a bit harder to find is information about how climate change has affected Minnesota and how it is expected to impact us in the future.
Last night I attended Policy & A Pint at the Varsity Theater. The main speaker was MPR News’ chief meteorologist Paul Huttner. Special guests were The Theater of Public Policy, an improv group that uses comedy to bring serious issues to life. I learned a few things about climate change — and the reporting of climate change — that I didn’t know.
The U.S. states experiencing the greatest change in climate are Arizona (1) followed by the upper midwest states — Minnesota (3), Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan (4). The Minnesota Climatology Working Group reports that Minnesota has seen a significant increase in the rate of warming since 1980. We are warming faster – in some areas of the state (central and southeast) much faster — than the previous 100 years.
We’ve seen some pretty warm summers recently, including 2011 when Moorhead and Madison, MN, hit a record dewpoint of 88 degrees and Minneapolis/St. Paul also had its highest dewpoint of 82 to 84 degrees. Combine dewpoint – which is a measure of humidity – and temperature and you get a heat index rating (Who holds the record? Appleton,Wisconsin. In 1995, it had a dewpoint of 90 degrees and an air temp of 101, giving it an extraordinarily dangerous heat index reading of 148.)
But the real change has been in overnight lows not being as low, and in warmer winter temperatures.
The temperature of the water in Lake Superior hasn’t been measured for all that long – only since the early 80s. Climatologists, who study trends over long periods of time, appear uncomfortable making definitive statements about lake warming over that short a time period, but the measured temperature rise in the past 25 years has exceeded 4 degrees.
Huttner told the audience of primarily University students that no one born after February 1985 has experienced a colder than average winter.
If You Can’t Predict the Weather, How Can You Predict the Climate?
The surprise statement of the evening was on the role that meteorologists have played in informing the public about climate change — or rather, the role they have NOT played.
Huttner said, in his experience, most meteorologists are climate change deniers. When asked how much of that denial is due to pressure from news directors — news stations routinely refuse to cover climate change because it is “too political” — he said he believes that perhaps as many as half are pressured into denial.
Unfortunately, meteorologists are the people most accessible to the general public, which is why it is critically important that they not contribute to the distortion of information in the news. Forecast the Facts is a grassroots organization that seeks to hold broadcast meteorologists and the news media accountable for misinformation and false balance.