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Climate Central Report Shows Warming Winters, Task Force Lays Out Strategy to Combat Climate Change


Lee Swank loves everything about winter.

“The main enjoyment cross country skiing, but I certainly enjoy everything else about winter the beauty of the snow, particularly mixed in with the evergreens that we have up here,” he said.

And he does mean everything.

“I even like snow shoveling. When we lived in Chicago my wife and I’d fight over who’d get to shovel the walk,” said Swank.

Swank and his family move from Chicago to the Rhinelander area 41 years ago because of that love of snow and the recreation opportunities in the Northwoods.

He says the winters down in Chicago never got cold or snowy enough to enjoy the outdoors.

“Just kind of a wasted season,” he said.

Even with as little snow we’ve gotten so far this year, Swank has managed to get out skiing tough not as much as he likes. And while this season is off to a slow start, he says that’s nothing unusual.

“The snow conditions have been variable and actually have been quite excellent the last 10 years,” said Swank.

While the snowfall has kept up to fulfill his joy of cross-country skiing, he can’t say the same for the temperatures.

“I have noticed that the temperatures have not quite as cold as they were when I first moved up here 40 years ago. We don’t get the 20 below weather like we used to,” said Swank.

There is data to back up what he has notice.

Climate Central Winter Report

Climate Central is an independent organization of scientists and journalists focused on climate change and its impact.

It recently released its winter report for data from across the country.

It breaks it down by state and then regions within states.

For the Wausau area, which is the northern most region listed in Wisconsin, temperatures are up 4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970.

We’re also experiencing an average of 12 more days of above-normal temperatures during the winter.

“One of the more pronounced changes is that there are fewer episodes of really cold nights for example or really cold temperatures,” said Associate Director of the Center for Climatic Research at UW Madison Michael Notaro.

He says people may also notice a change in how long the ice stays on the lakes.

“Lakes are freezing for a lot shorter time period. For our context down in Madison, for example Lake Mendota’s ice duration season has shortened by about 25%,” said Notaro.

If this warming trend continues at this rate, the Northwoods could see lot less ice in our future.

“In the case of the great lakes have projections that by the end of the centuries, for example where the lakes are mostly ice-free and the very short ice season, so it’s just a complete change of what we know for our region,” said Notaro.

That lack of snow, ice, and cold temperatures could have large implications on our region. Notaro says the biggest change we’ll likely see is an overall a shorter winter, this means less time for cross country skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and all the other winter outdoors activities people enjoy.

There are also negative impacts for farmers and wildlife.

“Plants like fruit trees are blooming early and then you have a frost and a lost harvest,” said Notaro.
“Dabbling ducks migrating later, staying up in the Great Lakes Region where there’s not much wetlands remaining, depleting food resources and then negatively effecting bird watchers and hunters in the southern states.”

Notaro says there are steps we can take to slow climate change to prevent these things from happening or at least put them off.

“Obviously the main culprit from climate change is the use of fossil fuels so we need to reduce fossil fuel use,” said Notaro.

Wisconsin is working on a plan to do that.

Wisconsin Climate Change Task Force Report

In October of last year, Governor Evers issued an executive order creating a climate change task force.

Interview with Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes on Climate Change Task Force Report.

In the time since, the task force has worked to identify strategies to combat climate change. The report includes 55 climate solutions across nine sectors that will lay the foundation for the state to better adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change, while also seeking environmental justice and economic opportunities in renewable energy and conservation.

“It’s important to get every aspect because every community is impacted by climate change,” said Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. Barnes leads the task force.

You can view the full report here. Some of those strategies include improving climate change education by expanding support for educators teaching climate science, supporting Wisconsin wood product, and creating a wild rice stewardship council with Native Nations. 

“This is the way to move forward in the most comprehensive way. We can create good paying jobs and we can stem the tide and we can save this planet so that future generations don’t have to worry about some of the threats we’re dealing with today,” said Barnes.

Barnes says green job creation and resiliency should be a priority.

“Given the fact that the nation is going to be in a period of recovery, much sooner than later, I think that the green job portion is going to need to be a priority and also some of the resilience pieces of the document,” said Barnes. “Like I said, our farming community has been literally, figuratively weathering many storms, having a detrimental impact.”

The potential impact of climate change and the thought of warming winters is definitely something that weighs on Lee Swanks mind.

“Absolutely, absolutely, if the temperatures warm eventually you know we’re not going to have as much snow therefor the ski season is going to be short,” said Swank.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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