This article was first published in the “In This Climate” Newsletter, a periodical newsletter looking at the impact of climate change in Michigan. Sign up for it here, or by using the form at the bottom of the article below.
The first series of newsletters will be in collaboration with one of the top climate experts in the U.S. -- Dr. Jonathan Overpeck, Samuel A. Graham Dean and William B. Stapp Collegiate Professor of Environmental Education School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan.
Often, we think of climate change as a thing that will happen many years from now. But that’s no longer the case. Climate change is happening right now, and its impacts can be seen across Michigan.
🔥 I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain 🌧️
Our first question: How is climate change being felt in Michigan right now (as in, in the period of time, not literally right now)? I asked Dr. Overpeck and here’s what he said:
Two categories of climate change are having the largest impacts in Michigan.
First, the amount of precipitation, as well as the intensity of precipitation, are both increasing. With the exception of the western Upper Peninsula, all of Michigan is seeing a precipitation increase, primarily in winter and spring, with some places seeing as much as 20% more rain and snow each year over the last 30 years, compared to the longer-term average. Even more striking, the amount of precipitation falling in the heaviest events has increased even more.
These changes mean that agricultural soils have a higher chance of being too wet in the spring crop planting season. These precipitation increases are also leading to a higher risk of flood, including in urban areas like Detroit where storm water infrastructure wasn’t designed for the higher amounts and intensity of rainfall. And, of course, more precipitation means more runoff into Michigan’s many lakes and waterways – this is contributing to record high water levels in the Great Lakes, and higher risk of dam failure in our rivers, where once again, aging infrastructure wasn’t designed for the climate-supercharged precipitation amount and rate increases that we’re now seeing.
More precipitation, falling faster, means more runoff from land, including farm fields, and this has led to more nutrients from fertilizer and manure being washed into water bodies, which in turn, has led to an increase in blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) blooms. Lake Erie is the poster-child for such toxic algae blooms, but similar increased runoff is causing algae blooms (both toxic and otherwise) elsewhere around the state of Michigan and Great Lakes region. It’s clear that climate change is making the situation worse.
A second big category of climate change impact is also making the algae-bloom situation worse, and that’s temperature increase. Annual average air temperatures over most of Michigan have warmed 2 to 3 degrees F over the last 100 years, and this warming has also warmed the Great Lakes and smaller water bodies. Warmer temperatures, like increased runoff, favor algae blooms.
Warming temperatures also mean hotter heatwaves and extreme heat in summer, and this can be deadly to humans. Warming also increases the severity of some types of toxic air pollution (for example, ozone smog), and is also contributing to the northward spread of some infectious disease such as Lyme Disease, as well as some insect-borne disease.
Paradoxically given higher amounts of precipitation in the cooler months, warmer temperatures also mean that soils, crops, and forests all are now at higher risk of drying out faster in summer during periods of low rainfall. Summer “dry-spells” are thus having greater negative impacts.
Warming temperatures in the Great Lakes and other water bodies are also affecting fish populations, just as they are impacting where different crops and native plants can thrive in the state.
In our next newsletter: What are the future implications of climate change in Michigan?
♨️ Hot reads
- An organization that promotes efforts to adapt the environment to cope with the effects of climate change is calling on governments and financers around the globe to include funding for adaptation projects in their COVID-19 recovery spending.
- The amount of baked-in global warming, from carbon pollution already in the air, is enough to blow past international agreed upon goals to limit climate change, a new study finds. But it’s not game over because, while that amount of warming may be inevitable, it can be delayed for centuries if the world quickly stops emitting extra greenhouse gases from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, the study’s authors say. More on this here. The United States is the world’s No. 2 carbon emitter after China.
- If you’re a podcast listener, check out How to Save The Planet. It’s a great, in-depth listen on some very important climate topics around the world.
🧊 Break the ice
Thanks for reading the In This Climate Newsletter! I appreciate it. If you have a topic you’d like me to cover or just want to say hello, feel free to email me!