Climate change means warmer, wetter weather in Minnesota, according to data from recent decades. So why is Minnesota in the grips of a drought? What, if anything, does climate change have to do with the drought?
“It’s simple and complicated,” said Kenny Blumenfeld, the state's senior climatologist.
The warmer, wetter weather is a general overarching trend of recorded data, he said. Within that trend are normal variations.
“We know our climate is changing,” he said. “But even as it changes, those ups and downs continue.”
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor report released July 22, nearly 20% of the state is under “extreme drought,” which means major crop losses and water restrictions predicted in those areas. About 72% of Minnesota is under “severe drought.”
Even under a changing climate, a pattern of abnormally dry weather was bound to happen, Blumenfeld said.
“The science guarantees we would have to get dry again,” he said. “The drought we’re having right now is bad, but it’s something we expected.”
The last time this much of Minnesota was under extreme drought was in 2012, according to the National Weather Service in La Crosse, Wis.
With extreme weather events occurring more frequently, Blumenfeld said it’s a common question whether climate change is causing them.
“I think the more appropriate question is, how is climate change influencing the weather?” he said.
The record heat we experienced in early June was outside the normal variations for several days.
“It was the most intensive heat wave we’ve ever observed that early,” Blumenfeld said. “That does check one of those climate change boxes.”
The current drought, while extreme, is within normal historic precipitation patterns.
“It’s hard to make the case that there's something unusual about it itself,” he said.
However, that doesn’t mean climate change isn’t part of the equation.
Climate scientists are finding climate change indicators in the prolonged drought and recent extreme heat on the West Coast. One of the contributing factors is a high-pressure ridge sitting over the West Coast. That weather pattern is contributing to the dry weather we’ve been experiencing in Minnesota.
“It’s the same basic weather pattern that’s causing our drought,” Blumenfeld said.
As global temperatures rise due to the increase in greenhouse gases, air masses begin to act differently, he added.
Those gases and the warmer atmosphere will always be a factor.
“People seem to think of climate change like a switch,” he said. “It’s not really like that — unless you consider the switch always on.”
John Molseed is a tree-hugging Minnesota transplant making his way through his state parks passport. This column is a space for stories of people doing their part (and more) to keep Minnesota green. Send questions, comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.