Climate Cast: Top 10 “climate indicators” to watch in 2013

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Every Thursday, MPR meteorologist Paul Huttner joins The Daily Circuit to talk about the latest research on our changing climate and the consequences that we’re seeing here in Minnesota and worldwide.

These days it seems like we are witnessing climate changes unfold right before our very eyes.

It’s not our imagination.

The nature of our seasons is changing. Spring blooms come earlier. Summer is more humid with a documented increase in extreme localized flash flood events…and more frequent droughts. Fall lingers longer. Lakes freeze up later. Winters are shorter and noticeably, measurably milder. New plants are able to thrive in Minnesota’s milder climate.

We’re all living witnesses to rapid climate changes in our lifetime. This is no longer your grandparents “Minnesota.”

In 2013 at MPR we’re devoting more coverage to the science behind and the growing effects of our changing climate in Minnesota and around the globe.

You can hear me discuss the week’s top climate stories in our new “Climate Cast” every Thursday morning at 9:50am with Kerri Miller on The Daily Circuit.

**Note: Next week’s Climate Cast will air on Tuesday February 5th at 9:50am due to MPR’s February Member Drive**

Climate Cast for Thursday Janaury 31st, 2013:

Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s Climate Cast.

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Climate Change 2013: Top 10 “climate indicators” to watch in 2013

We know “climate” is essentially the long term average of weather. A day, a month, even a year is “weather.” Decades or centuries? That’s climate.

Even though you cannot distill “climate” into one year, 2013 presents an opportunity to track some well established decadal climate trends that are already underway.

Here’s a list of 10 key things to look for as we track climate change and its effects in 2013.

1) Will 2013 be another “top 10 warmest year” globally?”

Global temperature trends are on a remarkable roll.

2012 was yet another “top 10 warmest year”… the 10th warmest globally according to NOAA.

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•The year 2012 was the 10th warmest year since records began in 1880.

The annual global combined land and ocean surface temperature was 0.57°C (1.03°F) above the 20th century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F).

This marks the 36th consecutive year (since 1976) that the yearly global temperature was above average. Currently, the warmest year on record is 2010, which was 0.66°C (1.19°F) above average.

Including 2012, all 12 years to date in the 21st century (2001-2012) rank among the 14 warmest in the 133-year period of record. Only one year during the 20th century–1998–was warmer than 2012.

Think about that for a second. Every year since 2001 is in the top 14 warmest on record globally. In a “normal” climate system, we might expect 4 cooler than average years, 4 “near average” years and 4 warmer than average years in the past 12 years.

Instead we have the 2 hottest years on record globally (2005 & 2010) and all 12 in the top 14 years going back to 1880. The odds of that as a natural occurrance? Incredibly remote.

The British Met Office is on record forecasting 2013 to be another “top 10” warm year with a forecast of +0,57C (+1.03F) globally.

Key factor to watch in 2013: We are way, way overdue for a year cooler than the 20th century average, or even a year that’s not in the top 10 warmest.

Will 2013 be another “top 10 warmest year” globally?

2) Will Arctic Sea Ice melt approach 2012 record levels?

On September 18th, 2012 Arctic Sea Ice coverage reached an all time record low of 1.3 million square miles (3.41 square kilometers), setting a new record low that was 18 percent smaller than the previous record and nearly 50 percent smaller than the long-term (1979-2000) average.

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Image: NOAA

One of the key (and alarming) Arctic trends in recent years is the disappearance of “multi-year ice.” 1st year ice is easier to melt than multi-year ice. The newer, clearer and thinner ice tends to act as a glass covered greenhouse. Long hours of sunlight from the Arctic summer shine through the new ice more efficiently, warming the ocean water underneath more efficiently than then through the “cloudier” multiyear ice. This may be increasing the overall rate of ice melt.

Key factor to watch in 2013: Will Arctic Sea ice melt in 2013 approach…or even exceed the record of 2012?

3) Next Round of IPCC Reports:

The IPCC issues updated reports tracking climate changes every 7 years. 2007 was the last round, and the 2014 reports will come out in pieces starting in the fall of 2013.

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Some parts of the reports have already been leaked, Here’s an excerpt published in Reuters.

The early draft, which is still subject to change before a final version is released in late 2013, showed that a rise in global average temperatures since pre-industrial times was set to exceed 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, and may reach 4.8 Celsius.

“It is extremely likely that human activities have caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperatures since the 1950s,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) draft report said.

“Extremely likely” in the IPCC’s language means a level of certainty of at least 95 percent. The next level is “virtually certain”, or 99 percent, the greatest possible certainty for the scientists.

The IPCC’s previous report, in 2007, said it was at least 90 percent certain that human activities, led by burning fossil fuels, were the cause of rising temperatures.

Key to watch in 2013: How is the currently observed warming , sea level rise and Arctic Sea ice melt tracking with previous IPCC Report? What new trends will emerge?

4) U.S. Drought in 2013:

I wanted to start globally and work locally with this post, but you can make the case that this is the #1 story as we approach the spring of 2013.

2012 brought intense sustained drought to the central USA.

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Corn prices skyrocketed to $8/bushel last summer as crops withered from lack of rainfall and intense heat. River flows dwindled, and the Mississippi River sank to record lows in some areas and threatened shipping along a major navigation route.

65% of the CONUS was in drought as of September 25th, 2012. This week that number is down to 58% this week, but most of the Corn Belt is still dangerously dry as we approach the 2013 growing season.


A full 98% of Minnesota is in drought as of this week.

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Rivers and lakes are running low, and snow cover is well below seasonal norms in much of Minnesota.

Aquifers are stressed.

If drought persists in Minnesota and the Midwest this spring, we will quickly reach “crisis” levels in several areas including crops, aquifers, lake and river levels. The spring wildfire season could be devastating.

NOAA’s CPC is calling for some improvement to drought conditions in the Upper Midwest in the spring of 2013, with drought persisting to the south & west.

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Key factors to watch in 2013: How much snowfall will the Upper Midwest see between now and spring? Will there be enough spring snow melt to boost faltering river levels in the Upper Mississippi Basin? Will there be above average rainfall once the ground is thawed to recharge dpeleted soil moisture?

5) Hurricane Season 2013:

Hurricane Sandy left a devastating trail of destruction along the most populated section of the USA’s coastline last fall.

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Image: NASA MODIS Terra

Now one scientist, outgoing USGS Director Marcia McNutt, says that massive shoreline erosion from Sandy has left that section of coastline a “sitting duck” for future storms.

Between the devastating year of 2005 and Isaac and Sandy in 2012, the USA has been relatively lucky with a lower number of U.S. land falling hurricanes.

Key to watch in 2013: Will there be an increased number of U.S. land falling hurricanes in 2013, closer to the “cluster” we saw in the mid-2000’s?

6) Billion Dollar Weather Disasters in 2013:

2011 set the record for billion dollar weather disasters in the USA with 14. Isaac and Sandy may have made 2012 the 2nd costliest year, and tallied 11 B$WD.

The trend of increasing B$WD ic clear.

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Image: NOAA

Many insurance companies and the reinsurance industry are reeling from record payouts.

According to a talk by UM climate specialist Dr. Mark Seeley at MPR Friday, the increase in insured losses in the past few decades has forced the reinsurance industry to essentially reorganize twice since 1980.

A record, or near record number of B$WD in 2013 will put increased stress on an industry that’s suffered huge losses in recent years and decades.

Key to watch in 2013: Will the increase in climate change driven extreme weather events bring another near record number of B$WD in 2013 ?

7) Minnesota tornado season 2013:

There is a documented increase in tornadoes in Minnesota in the past 50 years.

The average number of tornadoes in Minnesota has increased from about 26 per year in the 1950s to 48 per year in between 200 and 2010.

As our climate warms, weather patterns shift and the mean position of the jet stream move father north.

2012 produced 39 tornado reports in Minnesota according to SPC.

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Key things to watch in 2013: Will the increase in tornado numbers continue? Will a long overdue “Twin Cities Tornado Outbreak” occur in 2013?

8) Extreme Rainfall Events: Who will see the next “Duluth Flood?”

There is also a well documented increase in extreme rainfall events in Minnesota in the past few decades.

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There have been 3 “1,000 year” floods in southern Minnesota in the past 9 years.

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The “Great Duluth Flood of 2012” was a 500+ year “Annual Exceedance Probability” event.


As extreme rainfall events increase, Minnesota communities need to be on guard for the increased possibility of intense flash flood events, infrastructure damage and swift water rescues.

Our infrastructure in Minnesota was built to handle an era of less frequent heavy rainfall events. Climate change is delivering more tropical summer air masses to Minnesota, and more frequent tropical downpours.

Key to watch in 2013: How many extreme rainfall events will occur? Where?

9) Lake Superior water levels & temperatures:

Some call it the “Scandinavian Riviera.”

As our climate changes, Lake Superior is warming rapidly. Water in big lake is warming at twice the rate of the air over Minnesota.

Water temps in lake Superior reached record levels in some areas, and reached a balmy 75F as far north as Grand Marais last July.

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There is even some indication that a warmer Lake Superior may have injected additional water vapor into the atmosphere to help “juice” the Duluth flood last June.

Keys to watch in 2013: How much lake ice will form as ice cover typically peaks in March? Will Lake Superior water temps reach near warm record levels again in 2013?

10) The media and climate change: A tipping point?

It seems everyone is talking about climate change now.

It leads the nightly news. The blogosphere is full of climate related topics. The internet and You Tube are peppered with climate related videos.

Still, there seems to be a shortage of credible, science based climate change reporting in the mainstream media.

There are TV shows about youth gone wild, “Real Housewives” and hours of political banter on your cable system each day. Where’s the weekly Climate Change Show on the Discovery Channel or NBC?

That’s one reason we started Climate Cast this year. It’s a place where we can consistently report and discuss credible, peer reviewed climate science on the radio every week, and talk about how and why you’re seeing these changes unfold in your backyard.

There is so much good climate science being done these days. In spite of the skeptics and the deniers, climate science is standing tall in the test of peer review, and we’re all seeing the effects of climate change play out in our backyards and daily lives.

Let’s hope the media continues to educate the public about climate change in 2013.

Key to watch: Will the mainstream media increase coverage of science based climate change in 2013?

2013 may be a very “interesting” year.

Stay tuned.


Climate Cast resources:

Want to know more about climate change? Here are few quick links to credible climate change sources.

-Read the Minnesota Public Radio primer on Climate Change

-NOAA NCDC’s “State of the Climate” report

-AMS Statement on Climate Change

-NASA key evidence of climate change

-Great summary of Modern Day Climate Change from SUNY-Suffolk

-Minnesota Climate Working Group climate change resources

-Mark Seeley’s Weather Talk

-Common climate change myths

-Climate change in the news from Climate Central

-More coverage from The Yale Forum on Climate Change and Media

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