ROCHESTER, Minn. - Amid a summer that's seen drought, record heat, and hazy skies, experts say climate change is contributing to some of the atypical conditions Southeast Minnesota is experiencing.
"Minnesota's been getting warmer, and it's been getting wetter for the majority of the past several decades," said Kenny Blumenfeld, a senior climatologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "Certainly Rochester and Southeastern Minnesota - the Austin, Albert Lea area, all the way towards La Crosse,"
Blumenfeld says global temperatures have been rising continually, a particularly strong trend in the wintertime. The warmer weather has also created a rain-related ripple effect.
"Parts of southern and Southeastern Minnesota, just over the last two decades, have seen extraordinary rainfall events." Blumenfeld continued, "These areas have been hit very hard, numerous times, with the kind of storms you would often expect to come every 50-to-100 years occurring several times in the span of a couple of decades."
With more water in the environment, Blumenfeld says droughts, like the one impacting Southeast Minnesota this summer, have become less of an issue. However, they come with additional danger when combined with other conditions.
"When you overlay an episode of high temperatures with an episode of drought, you could have some pretty significant problems." Blumenfeld adds, "We're in a drought, then there's less water everywhere. There's less water in the air, there's less water in the lakes and rivers and streams, there's less water in the ground, and there's also less water in the vegetation. So everything's a lot dryer, and that means on an especially hot day that's sunny, and windy, and when the humidity is low, things are really much more susceptible to burnings."
Drought beyond Minnesota's borders, which has been linked to climate change, is also causing concern within the state. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says wildfire smoke has triggered at least 14 air quality alerts across the state since 2015, nearly double the amount issued in the seven years prior.
"This increased prevalence of smokey skies is related to the increased amount of burning in the forests, which is at least partially related to the way that climate change is causing more drought in the forested areas of the West and the Northwestern United States, and also in parts of Western Canada."
Turning to tornadoes and other severe thunderstorms, Blumenfeld says trends have remained consistent for the most part.
"When we look at severe weather trends, trends for thunderstorms, severe thunderstorms with hail, high winds, and tornadoes, it's really hard to see anything that's standing out. Tornadoes are more common now, or at least they're reported in bigger numbers now than they ever had been, but a lot of those are the small tornadoes that we're just seeing better than we used to. But when you remove those EF-0 tornadoes from consideration, just look at the ones that really do damage, EF-1 and stronger, those tornadoes have been pretty steady across the state for the last several decades."