4 of 5 Minnesotans Hit by Recent Weather Disasters; New Report Says Global Warming to Bring More Extreme Weather

Media Contacts
Michelle Hesterberg

Interactive Online Map Shows County-by-County Weather-Related Disaster History

Environment Minnesota Research and Policy Center

MINNEAPOLIS – As we continue to set record-high temperatures nearly every day this week in Minnesota, a new Environment Minnesota report documents how global warming could lead to certain extreme weather events becoming even more common or more severe in the future. 

The report finds that, already, 4 out of 5 Minnesotans live in counties affected by federally declared weather-related disasters since 2006. 

“Extreme weather has caused extremely big problems for millions of Minnesotans,” said Michelle Hesterberg, Environment Minnesota Field Associate. “Given that global warming will likely fuel even more extreme weather, we need to cut dangerous carbon pollution now.”

The new report, entitled In the Path of the Storm: Global Warming, Extreme Weather, and the Impacts of Weather-Related Disasters in the United States, examined county-level weather-related disaster declaration data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for 2006 through 2011 to determine how many Minnesotans live in counties hit by recent weather disasters. The complete county-level data can be viewed through an interactive map available here.

The report also details the latest science on the projected influence of global warming on heavy rain and snow; heat, drought and wildfires; and hurricanes and coastal storms.  Finally, the report explores how the damage from even non-extreme weather events could increase due to other impacts of global warming such changes in the type of precipitation.

Key facts about recent extreme weather in Minnesota and findings from the Environment Minnesota report include:

  • Recently, severe droughts in the Arrowhead region led to the Pagami Creek fire, the largest forest fire in Minnesota in 93 years, which burned around 145 square miles inside and outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and led to severe thunderstorms downwind of the fire. This summer, the U.S. Forest Service expects to close 76 campsites on 23 lakes because of damage remaining from the Pagami Creek fire.
  • Since summer of 2011, central and southern Minnesota have seen extreme drought conditions, including the driest autumn ever recorded in history.  These droughts have led to a parched agricultural landscape in central and southern Minnesota.
  • In spring and early summer of 2011, major flooding caused devastation across the state.  With the spring snow melt, major flooding occurred along the Mississippi, Minnesota, St. Croix, and the Red Rivers.  This flooding followed a 1000-year flood event in September 2010 in southern Minnesota.  Intense rains on September 22 and 23 ended with over 4 inches falling in nearly all of southern Minnesota and over 6 inches falling in numerous communities.  This rain led to flash floods that caused basement flooding, road closures, and record-high river levels throughout southern Minnesota.
  • Since 2006, federally declared weather-related disasters have affected 75 counties in Minnesota housing 4,319,080 people – or nearly 4 out of 5 Minnesotans.
  • In 2011 alone, federally declared weather related disasters affected 45 counties housing 3,567,513 people in Minnesota.  Nationally, the number of disasters inflicting more than $1 billion in damage (at least 14) set an all-time record last year, with total damages from those disasters costing at least $55 billion.

Environment Minnesota spoke with Dr. Mark Seeley, a climatologist/meteorologist at the University of Minnesota and author of Minnesota Weather Almanac; and Will Steger, a world-famous polar explorer and educator, for some comments about our changing climate prior to releasing this new report.

Seeley said, “The measurements in our state and our own back yard are showing us that the climate is changing and that it is changing in significant ways.  We have to adapt to these changes.  Our current infrastructure, behavior and lifestyle are based on a stationary view of climate behavior that is no longer valid.  We’re into a new era where the climate is behaving differently, and we really need to think seriously about the implications of this.  It would be a gross mistake to choose to ignore or dismiss the changes in our Minnesota climate.”

Steger said, “It’s difficult to miss the increasingly frequent news reports about extreme weather events causing devastation to Minnesotans.  What I have witnessed firsthand in the Arctic tells me that the signs of climate change are accelerating and the need for individual, and more importantly political action, is imperative.  We need strong policy that reduces carbon pollution and puts a price on polluting.  I look forward to seeing EPA move forward with strong carbon pollution standards for coal-fired power plants – these standards will be an important first step toward preventing future extreme weather events and drastic changes to our climate.”

Hesterberg noted that global warming is expected to have varying impacts on different types of extreme weather events. While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently concluded that it is “virtually certain” that hot days will become hotter and “likely” that extreme precipitation events will continue to increase worldwide, there is little scientific consensus about the impact of global warming on events such as tornadoes. In addition, every weather event is now a product of a climate system where global warming “loads the dice” for extreme weather, though in different ways for different types of extreme weather.

“Extreme weather is happening, it is causing very serious problems, and global warming increases the likelihood that we’ll see even more extreme weather in the future,” said Hesterberg. “Carbon pollution from our power plants, cars and trucks is fueling global warming, and so tackling global warming demands that we cut emissions of carbon pollution from those sources.”

The report was released as the Obama administration is finalizing historic new carbon pollution and fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, and as the Environmental Protection Agency is poised to develop carbon pollution standards for coal-fired power plants—the largest single source of the carbon pollution that is fueling global warming. At the same time, some polluting industries and their allies in Congress are working to block these and other clean air standards.

“We applaud the Obama administration for the clean car standards they are finalizing, and urge EPA to move ahead with strong carbon pollution standards for coal-fired power plants,” said Hesterberg.  “The extreme weather we suffered through in 2011 is a frightening reminder of why we must do everything we can to cut the dangerous carbon pollution that is fueling global warming, and lessen the threat of even worse extreme weather in the future.”

The full report is available online here.

Due to a revision in federal weather data that occurred after production of In the Path of the Storm was complete, Texas did not post the warmest June through August ever recorded in any U.S. state during the summer of 2011; in fact, neighboring Oklahoma did, with an average temperature 0.2 degrees warmer than that of Texas. Our original finding was based on an earlier analysis by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) that indicated that Texas’ average summer temperature was 0.3 degrees warmer than Oklahoma during 2011. The average summer temperature in both states during 2011 surpassed that of the previous record-holder, the “Dust Bowl” summer of 1934 in Oklahoma, as described in the report.

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Environment Minnesota is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy group.

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