Climate Cast: Spring 5 weeks earlier by 2100? Why recent snows cannot ease soils drought

Every Thursday MPR meteorologist Paul Huttner joins Kerri Miller on The Daily Circuit for “Climate Cast” on MPR News Stations to talk about the latest research on our changing climate and the consequences that we’re seeing here in Minnesota and worldwide.

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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 trending 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.

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Lilacs leafing out on March 23, 2012 in Deephaven, Minnesota

Image: Paul Huttner – MPR News

Climate Cast for March 7th, 2013

Buds, birds and animals tell a changing story: Spring is arriving earlier.

If current trends continue, spring might come as much as five weeks earlier by the year 2100.

Such a pronounced change would have a dramatic effect on Minnesota’s interconnected web of natural systems. On Thursday’s Climate Cast, Kerri Miller and MPR News’ Chief Meteorologist Paul Huttner discussed recent findings and took questions from listeners.

Here is an edited transcript of their conversation:

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Spring arriving much earlier by 2100 according to new study:

This one shouldn’t come as a big surprise. It already happened in Minnesota and across the USA last year, when spring literally came a full 5 weeks early.

Lilacs leafing out on March 23rd in Minnesota? 80F on St. Patty’s Day?

It may not happen every year, but climate changes suggest that springs like last year will become much more common by 2011.

Why should we care?

Well if you like the BWCA and pine & spruce forests of northern Minnesota you should enjoy them while you can. The sequence of more heat, less snowfall and more droughts means more fires such as the devastating Pagami Creek blaze.

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Image: Greg Seitz

Climate changes mean deciduous trees like Maple will “out-compete” native evergreen trees. That means our northern forests in Minnesota may look much different, and more like the south by 2100.

Climate Central’s Michael D. Lemonick expands on new research from a recent a paper published in Geophysical Research Letters.


The biological onset of spring could arrive up to five weeks earlier by 2100 in the northern U.S. than it does today, and more than a week earlier in the South, a change that could significantly alter ecosystems from Florida to Maine, according to a paper published in Geophysical Research Letters.

As with so many disruptions to natural systems, including rising seas, more frequent and intense droughts and heat waves, and more torrential downpours, this projected rollback in the onset of spring — measured in this case by “budburst,” or the annual emergence of leaves on deciduous trees like maples, poplars and birches — is tied to global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

The idea that spring is getting pushed earlier by climate change isn’t new: in fact, scientists have already demonstrated that spring weather has been coming to the U.S. three days earlier during the past 30 years, on average, than it did during the previous 30. Others have documented the shifting, not of weather, but of phenology — that is, biological events of all sorts, including budburst, but also flowering, ovulation, migration and other seasonal changes in plants and animals.

Arctic Ocean shipping routes may be open by summer 2050:

Time to book that North Pole cruise now?

Last year 21 vessels made the voyage through the Northwest Passage. If climate changes continue at our current pace, there’s a 90% chance that shipping may be exploiting the Arctic Ocean by 2050 on routes between China and Norway, between the USA’s east Coast and Rotterdam.

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Image: PNAS

As with all changes, this may present both opportunities and problems.

The plus side is it can save a ship around $300k per voyage. The down side is it may signal other global changes like rising sea levels that will make major coastal cities even more vulnerable to superstorms like Sandy.

NPR expands on research from the National Academy of Sciences.

Climate change will make commercial shipping possible from North America to Russia or Asia over the North Pole by the middle of the century, a new study says.

Two researchers at the University of California ran seven different climate models simulating two classes of vessels to see if they could make a relatively ice-free passage through the Arctic Ocean. In each case, the sea routes are sufficiently clear after 2049, they say.

The study, published Monday in the journal PNAS by Laurence C. Smith and Scott R. Stephenson, found that the sea ice will become thin enough that a “corridor directly over the north pole” will open up. “The shortest great circle route thus becomes feasible, for ships with moderate ice-breaking capability.”

According to The Guardian:

“The northern sea route has been shown to save a medium-sized bulk carrier 18 days and 580 tons of bunker fuel on a journey between northern Norway and China. Ship owners have said it can save them €180,000-€300,000 ($235,000-$390,000) on each voyage. A direct route over the pole could save up to 40 percent more fuel and time.”

Arctic sea ice has shrunk to its smallest extent on record in recent years, which has already opened up a seasonal northern route over Canada. Last year, a solo sailor in a 27-foot fiberglass sailboat was one of 18 private yachts to make the voyage.

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

Paul Huttner

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