The Minnesota climate is changing

By Gwen Willems

News analysis

Minnesota gardeners will likely be frustrated by another hot summer, according to Mark Seeley, a climatologist and retired University of Minnesota professor in St. Paul.

Seven of eight forecast models favor warmer weather than normal for June, July and August in almost all of the United States. In addition, chances of moisture are unknown: models are inconsistent about rainfall projections for Minnesota. In a bit of good news-bad news, Seeley also points to the trend for longer and longer falls.

Seeley, who has been a meteorologist for 50 years and a climatologist for 45, says in recent years he has seen many new trends towards warmer and wetter weather.

Reports of top heat in Minnesota have been rising annually since 1895, but with what he calls top heat rises occurring from 1985 to 2023. Precipitation has consistently increased over the years, since the ample rain of 2019, we have had unusual dryness, an abrupt change he considers “historically striking,” and a wet summer so far that is bringing the state out of drought.

In addition, the number of mega-storms on severe weather days has been increasing. An example is more frequent large hail, such as the $1 billion worth of hail damage across Minnesota for the first time in August 2023.

Other stand-out events include a 19-inch rainfall in August 2017, a 130 degree heat index in July 2011, tornado warnings in southwest Minnesota with blizzard warnings a few miles away in March 2014, and abrupt switches from wet years to drought years. On Groundhog Day in 1996 a new state record was set, with weather observations in Tower in northeastern Minnesota of minus-60 degrees and 36 hours later, +45 above, a 105-degree temperature change in a day and a half!

To give a big-picture view, Seely points to recent climate changes between 2006 and 2015, when the first and second editions of his book, Minnesota Weather Almanac, were published. Marking warmth and heavy rainfalls, more than 17,000 daily climate records were set in Minnesota’s observation network during those nine years.

“We have a lot of challenges ahead of us,” says Seeley, emeritus professor of the Department of Soil, Water and Climate on the university’s St. Paul Campus. His talks and writings brim with charts and graphs.

“Data scream at you,” he says. It was overwhelming data that convinced him since the early 1990s that in this part of the country we’re having more extreme climate change than elsewhere.

“For those who doubt or wish to discuss the evidence that climate is changing,” insists Seeley candidly, “the data indicate it is happening and already producing consequences in our own backyards. It is clearly poor judgment to ignore this! We are responding to this but need to quicken the pace.”

Coping with climate change

What can we as individuals do?

“We’re genetically engineered to be role models,” Seeley says. “Share your views on this issue and role model stewardship in your family, community and workplace.”

Some actions we can take are to advocate for use of renewable energy sources (wind, solar), demonstrate water conservation practices, promote tree planting (shade and interception of heavy rain), share the value of locally produced foods, advocate for electric and hybrid vehicles and promote best management practices for organic and manure fertilizer applications.

To learn more, check out Seeley’s weekly Minnesota WeatherTalk blog (just google the name to find it), tune in to hear him at 6:55 a.m. Fridays on the Morning Edition program on Minnesota Public Radio (also available online), and read the Minnesota Weather Almanac written by Seeley and The Climate Action Handbook: A Visual Guide to 100 Climate Solutions for Everyone, published in March 2023 and written by Heidi Roop, his successor at the University.

In 2007, Seeley co-founded the Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership, which believes climate action is a community effort and everyone has something to contribute to climate solutions.

Gwen Willems lives in Falcon Heights and is a Bugle freelance writer.

Leave a Reply