Wisconsin report warns ‘wetter, warmer’ to continue
Recent Wisconsin headlines:
“Downpours flood northwest Wisconsin, killing animals at Superior Zoo.”
“Three motorists die when flash floods wash out section of Clark County highway, creating a 50-foot wide sinkhole”
“Spring temperatures set records.”
“Garden flowers bloom weeks ahead of normal.”
“Lawns turn August brown before it’s officially summer.”
What was it that experts said about Wisconsin’s climate last year?
Lost in the state Capitol’s 2011 season of protests, “Wisconsin’s Changing Climate: Impacts and Adaptation,” was the first report of the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts.
Recent events prompted a shelf-clearing search for the 217-page report.
The dozens of experts who worked in 15 working groups to produce it are a Who’s Who of Wisconsin environmental and science academics and professionals.
They work at the state Department of Natural Resources; at the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection; on UW System campuses; for UW Extension; at the Sea Grant Institute; at the Water Resources Institute; and at the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
No, the report is no “global warming” screed from political lefties and professional tree huggers.
Its serious premise is this: Wisconsin’s climate has been getting “warmer and wetter” since 1950, and those trends are speeding up, so it’s time to consider likely results and ways to respond to them.
Consider just five subjects from the report’s summary.
Temperature, precipitation: “Wisconsin’s warming trend will continue and increase considerably in the decades ahead. By the middle of the century, statewide annual average temperatures are likely to warm by 6-7 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Wintertime temperatures are likely to increase by about 8 degrees Fahrenheit, with slightly warmer temperature increases in northwestern Wisconsin. Summertime average temperatures are likely to rise 5-6 degrees Fahrenheit statewide, with the greatest warming in northern Wisconsin. …
“The number of summer days that exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit is projected to increase statewide. Southern and western regions of Wisconsin could see three or more weeks per year of these hot days, while northern regions are likely to see an increase of about two weeks.”
This sentence foreshadowed the Clark County tragedy: “Large storm events are also likely to increase in frequency during spring and fall.”
And, “Statewide, the amount of precipitation that falls as rain rather than snow during the winter is also projected to increase significantly, and freezing rain is more likely to occur.”
Water Resources: “More runoff from projected heavy seasonal rainfalls will likely increase sediment and nutrient inputs to lakes and wetlands, leading to more blue-green algae blooms in lakes and loss of biodiversity in wetlands.
“Any decrease in groundwater recharge could be compounded by increased demand for irrigation due to an extended growing season, shifts in the timing of precipitation and high temperatures or regional droughts.”
Natural habitats: “The ranges for many plant and animal species are expanding northward.
“Species currently found in northern Wisconsin at the southern edge of their range may no longer be able to survive in the state.
“Rising stream temperatures, which result from rising air temperatures and other factors, will lead to reduced habitat for native book trout that require cold water. Scientists predict that if summer air temperatures rise by 5 degrees Fahrenheit, brook trout habitat will decline by 95 percent across the state.
“However, a warming climate will benefit other species, including the gray squirrel, whitetail deer, European starling and Canada goose, with potential negative impacts on the environment resulting from increases in their population.”
Agriculture: “Warming temperatures in spring and fall would help boost agricultural production by extending the growing season. However, increased warming during the summer months could reduce yields of crops such as corn and soybeans, with studies suggesting that every 2 degrees Fahrenheit of warming could decrease corn yields by 13 percent and soybean yields by 16 percent.
“More annual rainfall and more intense storms heighten the potential for significant soil erosion. Without appropriate adaptation measures, future precipitation patterns could double soil erosion rates by 2050, compared to 1990 rates.”
Public health: “New and more severe public health challenges arise as heat waves become more frequent and climatic conditions boost air pollutants such as smog and particulate matter. … All of these air pollutants worsen asthma and other respiratory diseases.”
These changes are likely by 2050, the report said. That’s only two generations away.
Steven Walters is a senior producer for WisconsinEye. This column reflects his personal perspective. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.