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Northland sits in bull's-eye of warming winters

Dec 02, 2017 06:35AM ● Published by Editor

By John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune - December 1, 2017

Scientists have been saying for years that Northland winters are getting warmer, but a new report from the nonprofit group Climate Central shows the region in the bull's-eye for climate change in the U.S.

The report, released this week, found winters warming faster in the Great Lakes and Great Plains than anywhere else in the U.S., with winters in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas and northern New England warming at an average rate of more than 1 degree per decade since 1970 — more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit total.

The warmer winters — the average daily temperature for December, January and February — include Mankato and Minneapolis, each up more than 6 degrees since 1970, with Fargo up 5.9 degrees and Duluth up 5.8 degrees. Burlington, Vt., leads the list with a 7-degree winter warming.

That's not a projection; that's what's already happened during the past 46 years.

"We've had most of these numbers out before, but we put this out this week to coincide with the start of meteorological winter in Dec. 1. And we've updated it to include the winter of 2016-17,'' Sean Sublette, a meteorologist with the Princeton, N.J.-based Climate Central, said.

Sublette said there's a good reason the coldest places are warming the most: Physics.

"It's a fair question, but it's pretty simple that it takes less energy to warm something cold than it does to warm something already warm,'' he said, adding that's why the Arctic and Antarctic areas are among the fastest warming on Earth.

Sublette said winters are getting progressively warmer, much like seasons do: Every day of summer isn't warmer than the last one, but summers almost always get warmer as they go along.

"That's not to say it's going to get progressively warmer every single winter ... but the trend has clearly been warmer, and that's going to continue. We'll have cold winters and warm winters, cold and warm months, but the trend is going in one direction."

Not every part of the country will warm at the same time, either. Much of the U.S. basked in an unusually balmy November while Duluth saw lower-than-normal temperatures much of the month.

The higher winter temperatures would account for many of the other noticeable changes Northlanders have seen in winter, such as shorter snow seasons, shorter seasons with lake ice and far more rain during winter months, as documented by the Minnesota State Climatology Office.

The temperature records show winter is the fastest-warming season in most of the country, generally from the Rockies to the East Coast. But there are some exceptions. Fall is warming the fastest in the Pacific Northwest, and spring is warming the fastest in the Southwest. Summers are the fastest-warming season in Texas.

The data from the National Center for Environmental Information was gathered from thousands of National Weather Service weather stations across the country. Climate Central, which describes itself as a scientific and communications group, used data from 244 of the largest cities in the country to compare the fastest warming.

"All but 8 of the 244 were warmer,'' Sublette said.

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