Your parents might be exaggerating when they talk about walking two miles to school in the middle of a blizzard, up-hill in both directions. But, if you feel like Minnesota winters don’t pack the punch they used to, it isn’t your imagination. Data collected at weather stations around Minnesota shows that the average annual temperature in our state has increased by 2.9°F since 1895, a warming trend that is most pronounced during the winter. Observations of ice-on and ice-off on lakes around the state also show that we have lost two weeks per year of ice coverage in the past 50 years, and three weeks over the last century.
Warmer weather doesn’t just mean fewer days of ice fishing, it also means more frequent blue-green algae blooms during the summer time, fewer deep freezes to kill invasive species like emerald ash borer, and changes in plant and animal communities as species such as walleye, opossum, and even maple trees migrate north toward a cooler climate.
As Minnesota’s climate warms, it is also getting wetter. The average annual rainfall is up by 3.4 inches since 1895, and “mega rains” that bring more than 6-inches of rain across more than 1000 square miles are becoming increasingly common. As a result, communities are having to update stormwater management requirements and retrofit old pipes and ponds to guard against flooding.
Currently, the Walz-Flanagan Administration is asking Minnesotans to share ideas on how to best respond to our changing climate. The state has set up a website to provide information and collect ideas from the public related to: 1) Investing in clean transportation; 2) Protecting our natural and working lands; 3) Creating stronger, resilient communities; 4) Moving to clean energy and efficient buildings; and 5) Promoting health, equity, and a strong economy (climate.state.mn.us/ideas-lead-bold-action).
Within each topic category, the public is encouraged to react to potential goals and share suggestions for additional actions the state could take. Most suggestions, such as “enhancing biological diversity and protecting habitat corridors on 350,000 acres of natural and working lands,” are ones that would provide multiple benefits. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, an acre of grassland can hold as much as 78 tons of carbon while an acre of mature evergreen forest can hold as much as 140 tons of carbon. In addition, forests and grasslands also provide wildlife habitat and allow rain and melting snow to soak into the ground instead of running off and causing downstream flooding.
Other state-led actions could support work that is already happening at a local level. For example, South Washington Watershed District convened a series of workshops with city staff and community leaders in 2017 that led to the development of a Climate Resiliency Plan. The plan considers a wide range of climate challenges, including the need to replace outdated stormwater pipes and raise roads in flood-prone locations; strategies to avoid drawing down aquifers used for drinking water; loss of habitat and increasing abundance of invasive species in natural areas; and more frequent algal blooms. State funding could help to support similar climate resiliency planning in other Minnesota communities.
If you would like to help collect data on Minnesota’s changing climate, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is currently looking for additional lake ice reporters. This is an easy volunteer activity that just requires people to report the ice-on and ice-off for their lakes each winter. To sign up, go to www.pca.state.mn.us/water/lake-ice-reporting-program.