By HANNAH NORTHEY
Capital News Service
LANSING –Michigan could see a warmer and drier climate in coming decades, creating
challenges for policymakers, scientists, farmers and the tourism industry.
Warmer, more erratic winter temperatures could turn the state’s ski slopes into
slush slopes and possibly devastate fruit crops, according to climate models calculated by
researchers at Michigan State University.
Oakland County and the rest of the Detroit area could have a climate more like
Kentucky’s, according to Jeffrey Andresen, an MSU climatologist.
“The projections for the region are for a 2- to 2.5-degree warming for the average
annual temperature by the last decade of the century,” Andresen said.
This winter has been the warmest in recorded history, according to the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Last winter was the second warmest.
The state has already experienced rising heat and precipitation because of global
“Mean temperatures in Michigan have increased, especially in the past 20 to 30
years,” Andresen said.
“Overall, we’re significantly wetter than we were – on the order of 10 percent
more precipitation per year.”
With higher nighttime temperatures and more precipitation, the cloud cover has
increased since the end of the 1930s, Andresen said.
Ice cover on the Great Lakes has also diminished, exacerbating strong lake-effect
storms along Michigan’s western coast.
Researchers believe sleet and snow on the western side of the state are now more
erratic because the lakes are uncovered and warmer for a longer period of time.
“Our snowfall totals, at least in terms of variability, are increasing in some areas,”
“That’s a bit of an alarming trend because we have a large winter sports and
tourism industry here.”
The onset of warm spring days has come seven to 10 days earlier than in past
While longer growing seasons could benefit corn and wheat, fruit crops are more
Julie Winkler, a professor of geography at MSU, said once the fruit crops such as
cherries, blueberries, grapes and strawberries, begin to develop, they are more susceptible
to cold. Early frosts or unexpected cold bouts can kill the buds.
The climate scenarios are based on an analysis of current weather patterns, but
projections are difficult because the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the future could
change. Carbon dioxide, produced in combustion, is responsible for 60 to 65 percent of
global warming, Andresen said.
It has been scientifically established that warming is occurring, and people should
know about the best models science has to offer for stemming the tides of change, he
“The people in the camps of skeptics are only a few,” he said. “This is the best
science we have, and it’s very likely not wrong.”
David Skole, a professor of global change science at MSU, said climate change is
already here and lawmakers need to respond.
“Policy changes are indeed ahead for all of us,” he said.
For example, Skole said, policymakers should adopt ways to reduce carbon
emissions by promoting mass transportation and alternative fuels, including biodiesel,
ethanol and hydrogen cells.
Carbon dioxide should be considered a commodity for farmers and businesses to
trade, Andresen said. Farmers, for example, could grow crops such as corn and trees that
take in carbon and sell tho.
se credits on a market.
Nationally, carbon trading is a $22-billion-a-year industry that could be expanded,
Skole said “the idea of linking conservation and climate mitigation and business
opportunities is something that ought to be stressed and encouraged.”
He pointed to the Chicago Climate Exchange, the first voluntary pilot program for
trading of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide.
Rep. Chris Ward, R-Brighton, said he supports incentive-based initiatives rather
“The market for renewable fuels and products is still developing, so I support
voluntary initiatives,” Ward said.
For example, he said, the state should continue attracting new businesses to
develop biodiesels and hydrogen fuel cells, and those companies should receive tax
Andresen said it’s important to educate people about climate change. “We’ve got
to keep informing people because they’re going to be asked to make informed decisions.”