How The Climate Crisis Is Affecting Minnesota
Like so many other Midwestern US states, Minnesota is already feeling the effects of the climate crisis.
Across the state, communities are seeing higher temperatures, more extreme weather, and changes to cherished natural wonders. And these effects will only become more pronounced unless we act boldly to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
Read on to learn more about how Minnesota could be affected by this ongoing crisis – and what you can do to fight back.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Across the Midwest, signs of our rapidly changing climate become clearer each year. Records show that spring is arriving sooner, dangerously hot weather is occurring more often, and winters are becoming warmer and less snowy.”
This is particularly true in traditionally cool Minnesota.
Winters in Minnesota are already warming 13 times faster than its summers. And this massive rise in temperatures has earned the city of Minneapolis a dubious distinction: It is among the fastest-warming major cities in the United States.
And it’s about to get significantly warmer.
Late last year, with the help of researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Vox created a database that pulls from 32 different climate models to predict how much winters and summers in cities across the US could warm on average by 2050.
For Minneapolis, the results are staggering.
Average summer high temperatures in the city in 2050 could be 5.3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they were in 2000. Meanwhile, winter lows may well be 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in 2050 than the 2000 average.
But the city is not an island – and escalating temperatures statewide are already taking a toll.
“Lakes have begun to freeze later in the year and thaw sooner. Longer growing periods come hand in hand with voracious new pests, deadly parasites, and toxic algae,” CityPages writes. “The boreal forest is receding, taking with it the animals that have come to represent the wild north.”
NATURE UNDER SEIGE
Minnesota’s incredible natural landscapes and ecosystems are already being pushed to their limits – and if we don’t act quickly to reduce carbon emissions and transition away from the dirty fossil fuels driving climate change, there may be no turning back.
Northern Minnesota is warming more quickly than the rest of the state, presenting an existential threat to the famed evergreen conifers that dominate the state’s far-north snow forests. As the state warms further, tree species like balsam fir and black spruce may begin to die out entirely and be replaced by warmer-climate deciduous trees like maples, oaks, and hickories.
“Spruce, fir, paper birch, and quaking aspen will all decline rapidly in the next decade, [University of Minnesota ecologist Lee] Frelich predicts,” according to CityPages. “They’ll die in heatwaves, drought, and springs that come too early, forcing them out of dormancy. Increasing warmth makes the difference between boreal and temperate forest. But it’s dryness that will propel the subsequent prairie invasion.”
Outside of the state’s northern forests, you’ll discover its other natural wonders. They’re crisp, clear, and teaming with life. And Minnesota’s license plates are adorned with a slogan alluding to their vastness: “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”
(Actually, there’s 11,842 of them, if you want to be precise about it.)
But as air temperatures warm, so do water temperatures – and rising surface water warmth in the state’s lakes is “leading to a significant loss of fish habitat for many prominent species, including trout and walleye.”
Taken together with increased, often-polluted storm runoff (more on that below) and erosion, many of these bodies of water are also experiencing more and more algae blooms – which will only worsen as the climate crisis deepens. These algae blooms eat up a substantial amount of the oxygen in the water, effectively suffocating the fish that live there and creating even more species loss.
With all of the above in mind, we want you to check out this video, which lays out in just under three minutes the substantial role all of that natural wonder plays in Minnesota’s economy:
Did you notice the pristine lakes, vibrant forests, and snowy expanse? The campers, hikers, skiers, snowmobilers, and fisherman?
Did you catch some of those facts and figures:
- 73 million visitors in 2017
- $15.3 billion generated by travel and tourism
- Over 270,000 jobs, representing 11 percent of Minnesota’s private job market and $5.8 billion in wages for Minnesota workers is related to travel and tourism
- $996 million in state sales tax – 18 percent of total state sales tax revenue
Now, consider what happens to that tourism revenue and those jobs when the forests and fish begin to disappear. Or the wintertime snows aren’t as dependable as they used to be.
FLOODING AND DROUGHT
With global temperatures steadily increasing at their fastest rates in millions of years, it’s no surprise that many places are also experiencing more and more extreme weather events.
The state’s geographic location isolates it from some of the worst weather impacts we’ve come to associate with our changing climate – like sea level rise and major hurricanes. However, it is not immune to the flooding and drought that also have come to represent this crisis.
>> Free download: Extreme Weather and the Climate Crisis: The Facts <<
Already, the state has endured both (via CityPages):
In 2007, 24 counties sought federal drought assistance due to lack of rain. Two weeks later, a biblical downpour drowned seven others into FEMA disaster areas. Minnesota had never seen simultaneous drought and flooding like that before. Five years later, it happened again. … Three years ago [in 2016], Waseca received 56 inches of annual precipitation, setting a new state record. But last year, nearby Harmony registered four inches more, including rainfall more typical of cities along the Gulf of Mexico.
In our warming world, Minnesotans could see more and more precipitation extremes, more feast and famine when it comes to rain and snowfall, like those described above.
Rising temperatures are expected to bring more precipitation on average to the North Star State throughout the year, though summers may be slightly drier than they have previously been. This is particularly true of the late-summer – with some models forecasting average rainfall in August to drop by up to 60 percent in certain parts of the state by the end of the century.
Rainfall patterns and the distribution of rain and snowfall across the state are likely to change as well – which could result in further short-term drought and create a major flash flooding concern across parts of the state.
“Instead of getting smaller rainfalls spread out over time, rainfall will likely happen less frequently but with more intensity. These sorts of rainfalls, usually accompanied by heavy storms, can cause flash flooding,” the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency explains. “These sudden and intense floods can cause significant property damage, and can even lead to deadly situations for those caught unprepared. Warming winters may also lead to more freezing rain or sleet instead of snow in some areas, and wetter, heavier snow in others.”
This has a lot to do with the combined impact of the warmer temperatures explained above.
Because warmer air holds more water vapor, more intense rainstorms are forming in some places. On the flip side of the same coin, as air temperatures increase, more moisture evaporates from lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water, but also from the ground. So when the torrential rainfall does arrive, it falls on a now drought-stricken area, one with dry, hardened soil that is less able to absorb it, leading to heavy runoff that has nowhere to go.
What You Can Do
While the climate crisis affects some places more acutely than others, the writing’s on the wall everywhere: We need to accelerate the global shift from the dirty fossil fuels driving climate change to renewables so we can power our lives and economies without destroying our planet.
It’s our responsibility to do everything we can to prevent the worst of it. And it certainly could get much worse.
Acting now to swiftly transition from dirty fossil fuels to clean energy can limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Two degrees of warming could have significant impacts, there’s no denying. But if we do nothing and continue on the path we’re on, the global average temperature could rise 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. To say the difference between these two scenarios would be dramatic is perhaps quite literally the understatement of the century.
Across the country and around the world, everyday activists supporting sustainable solutions in their communities are making the difference in the fight against the climate crisis. With federal-level climate action stalled in the US, our movement is working hard to effect change at the local level. That’s why we invite you to learn more about our Climate Reality Leadership Corps.
This year, we will host trainings in Raleigh, North Carolina (June 29-July 1); Detroit, Michigan (August 11-13); and Orlando, Florida (early September).