Warm mornings in November may have felt nice in the moment, but they come at a terrible cost for Michigan agriculture, and human civilization.
MICHIGAN—Summery temperatures in November were widely remarked on in Michigan. Leaders talking about the cold months ahead often commented to The ‘Gander about how unusual this November was, and that the warm weather wouldn’t last.
It was so unusual that multiple record high temperatures were set across northern Michigan, reports Interlochen Public Radio. And that, itself, is strange.
“This is very unusual,” stressed Andy Sullivan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gaylord, in an interview with IPR. “You might have a day where you set a record, two at the most. We’ve had four or five.”
As for the way that warm weather has been seen on the ground, another NWS meteorologist, Faith Fredrickson, told IPR that what Michiganders imagine as a November morning just wasn’t true.
“It’s been sort of strange walking out at 4:30 in the morning and your car says 58 degrees,” she said.
Data reported by MLive showed only Minnesota, New York and Wisconsin warmed their winters faster than Michigan over the past 50 years. Grand Rapids tends to have 52 days per winter warmer than average. And while that sounds good to those digging their cars out of snowbanks, it’s very, very bad for the survival of the human race.
“In the more than 30 years I’ve been a meteorologist, I’ve always enjoyed sitting down each day and taking a look at the latest computer model forecasts of the weather for the upcoming ten days,’’ Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for the site Weather Underground, told ThinkProgress. “That pleasure began becoming tinged with anxiety beginning in 2010, when we seemingly crossed a threshold into a new more extreme climate regime. The relatively stable climate of the 20th Century that I grew up with is no more.’’
As ThinkProgress explained, the impacts of what Masters, Fredrickson and Sullivan have seen are disastrous. The “false spring” caused by unseasonably warm weather coaxes plant and animal life hibernating to survive winter to awaken prematurely, and when the false spring ends and winter reasserts itself, the frost destroys the vulnerable reemerging life. In 2012, a false spring killed $500 million in fruits and vegetables, according to a study conducted by Michigan State and Cornell.
And it isn’t just the cost of not having snow. The same global effect warming Michigan winters is having other disastrous consequences elsewhere. That’s why this unseasonable warmth is exactly the kind of thing that worries Lance Wood.
Wood studies the environment at Central Michigan University. The winters he remembers growing up in Lenawee County have very little in common with the winters he sees today.
“I’ve studied climate change for a while,” Wood told The ‘Gander. “If we don’t take swift action there’s going to be serious consequences.”
And, he says, we’re already seeing those consequences on a global scale, from worsening floods and droughts to wildfires blazing out of control to, paradoxically, the polar vortices that make parts of Michigan winters far colder than normal as well.
“The amount of intense hurricanes we’ve had season after season after season?” Wood said. “I can remember as far back as 2005 and Hurricane Katrina, that was a really big ‘this hasn’t happened in a while’ and it didn’t happen for a while thereafter, but now we’re seeing year after year the huge Category 4 and 5 hurricanes hitting the US coast and causing major amounts of damage.”
In 2020, a cyclone—the remnant of a hurricane—hit Lake Superior for the first time. Tropical Depression Cristobal was one of many surprises in 2020, and though it faded from memory as a novelty rather fast, the implications of a tropical storm being able to reach Lake Superior are startling.
That motivated Wood’s support for President-elect Joe Biden.
One way President Biden plans to implement broader environmental policies, and address the concerns of Michiganders worried about America’s leadership in the world, is rejoining the Paris Climate Accords, which Biden has pledged to start the process to do on his first day in office.
In brief, those accords involve voluntary limits on a nation’s fossil fuel consumption to slow the progress of global warming while long-term solutions are developed and implemented, like transitioning to renewable energy production for domestic electric infrastructure—another goal of Biden’s.
Biden also has a view Wood shares of how the environment and the economy interact.
“There tends to be a misconception about what climate policy looks like,” Wood explained.
That misconception is that protecting the environment necessitates job losses or industries suffering. Neither Wood nor Biden believe this, and Biden’s green jobs plan shows it. One key provision of that plan is, for instance, replacing the entire land vehicle fleet of the federal government with electric cars. That could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage a national electric vehicle infrastructure that leads more Americans to buy electric.
But more action than that will be needed to meet the goals of creating a country that no longer contributes to the radical climate change that’s making hurricane remnants reach Lake Superior, costing farmers millions thanks to false springs and making November feel a little too much like May.