Climate change in MN: icy roads, wheezing, rattlesnakes?

Minnesota’s first statewide conference asking how we should adapt to a changing climate took place Thursday in St. Paul.

The conference kicked off with a long list of possible impacts, as predicted by experts from sectors ranging from public health to agriculture to transportation.

I’ve compiled a (not comprehensive) list of their examples, with a brief explanation for each. Also check out MPR meteorologist  Paul Huttner’s takeaway from the conference.

Hearing ‘wintry mix’ more on the weather report: Snowfall totals are expected to decline in Minnesota in the coming decades. With more days in which temperatures hover above freezing, we’re likely to see more of that rain/slush/snow mix, says University of Minnesota climatologist Peter Snyder.

Icy roads in winter: The frequency of rain/snow mix events makes plowing the roads more difficult, Minnesota Department of Transportation planner Phillip Schaffner says. With snow, you just send out the plows. With freezing rain, you have to time the chemical treatment of the roads just right.

Pavement buckling in summer: Heat and humidity can cause pavement to expand, and that sometimes leads to buckling without warning. Such incidents have held up traffic on Twin Cities interstates in recent years.

Sneezing, wheezing, asthma: A warmer climate means people who suffer from seasonal allergies might have to deal with them longer, and they could be more severe. The Minnesota Department of Health says for some that leads to asthma.

Rattlesnakes? Well, maybe. University of Minnesota professor Larry Baker says rattlesnakes are a personal phobia, but he used them to demonstrate to conference attendees that the changing climate will attract species that don’t currently live in Minnesota. And the ranges where native species are found may change. Baker said there are likely many climate change impacts we just don’t know about yet.

Trout anglers switch to muskie? The changing climate has implications for water quality in Minnesota’s lakes and streams. Lucinda Johnson, of the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute, says some species, such as trout, may not do as well.

Tick and mosquito-borne illnesses: These illnesses are already on the rise, and health officials say climate change may explain an explosion of ticks, especially in northern Minnesota.

Less heat, more AC: Hotter summers are causing more people to run their air conditioners, or install them for the first time. In the winter, many Minnesotans are using less heat. So will these trends increase the state’s energy use or decrease it? That’s an interesting question to ponder.

Boundary Waters becomes savannah: Scientists like Lee Frelich of the University of Minnesota predict northern Minnesota’s forests will continue to suffer in a warmer climate. He advocates intervention including controlling invasive species, managing the deer population and using fire to restore forests.

Drinking water odor or bad taste: A warmer climate could cause more algae growth, altering water quality. Treatment systems can’t always get rid of it.