Committees examine extreme Minnesota weather

On June 17, 2010, there were 48 tornadoes in Minnesota. The state led the nation in tornadoes that year for the first time ever, with 113.

In July of 2011, Moorhead, Minn., was the hottest point on the planet, with a heat index of 134 degrees.

In 2012, for the second time in state history, some counties in Minnesota had federal disaster declarations made for drought, while at the same time others had disaster declarations for flooding.

These were a few of the events mentioned during a joint meeting Thursday of the House Capital Investment and Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance committees to discuss extreme weather resiliency. Experts from the University of Minnesota and several state agencies appeared before lawmakers to discuss why extreme weather takes place, its impacts and how Minnesota is responding.

“Nationwide, all the statistics show an increasing trend of the economic consequence of these events appears to be literally costing us more dearly with each passing decade,” Dr. Mark Seeley, an extension climatologist whose position at the University of Minnesota was created after the drought of 1976, told the committees.

Seeley said changes in temperature, dew points and moisture levels have implications for severe weather. He told members that since the drought of 1988, which cost the state more than $4 billion, Minnesota has seen increases in intense thunderstorm rains, flash floods, spring snowmelt floods, large hail, tornadoes and heat advisories.

“This is something that those of us that have worked in the business of climate science are concerned about because of what we’re seeing in the frequency of occurrence of these extremes,” Seeley said.

David Shad, deputy commissioner at the Department of Natural Resources, said that trying to manage natural resources in the face of extreme weather and climate change was “probably the most daunting challenge we’ve ever faced” because of the uncertainty in how natural systems will respond. But he said being proactive in repairing and maintaining healthy landscapes was essential in preparing for extreme weather events, as doing so allowed for better adaptation and recovery.

Shad encouraged members to read a reportreleased last year by the DNR in cooperation with a number of other agencies that he said was a concise assessment of climate science as it relates to natural resource management, what experts think might be happening, and management options to consider.

David Thornton, an assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, cited a different report. It was also created through the cooperation of several state agencies and examined the state’s vulnerabilities and potential responses. He told lawmakers that a lot of adapting to climate change is adapting the way government operates to manage existing programs and resources in a way that accounts for the change.

“A lot of it is on us, to change the way we’re managing our business in the state agencies,” Thornton said. “We’re beginning to do that, and we see this as an ongoing process.”

Rep. Ron Erhardt (DFL-Edina) asked the scientists if they were convinced that global warming “might be a part of what’s happening here?”

Seeley said that as a member of the climate science community for four decades, “the answer is emphatically, ‘yes,’ the climate of planet Earth is changing.” He said the climate is changing in significant ways and that the human fingerprint “is embedded” in the changes.

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Jonathan Mohr's picture
Jonathan Mohr