MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Wisconsin farmers can expect to see more crops damaged by extreme weather, and residents will see the Great Lakes shrink, forests recede and higher health and other costs as a result of climate change, according to a federal report released Tuesday.
The report highlighted challenges the country and Midwest residents will have to adapt to, including longer growing seasons that are also affected by extreme weather events. Wisconsin will see more precipitation, but that will include severe floods that threaten farmers and city infrastructure, according to the report.
John Young, who serves as the Wisconsin climatologist, said climate trends and variability, paired with extreme weather, create the biggest societal impact.
The Associated Press talked with some of the lead authors from Wisconsin who were cited in the report, who gave a rundown of the biggest challenges facing the state.
- Agriculture: Farmers will face challenges from both higher average temperatures and wetter weather, the report said.
Scientists say Wisconsin has warmed since at least 1950, and that the state’s growing season has increased an average of five days, and by 20 days in central and northwest Wisconsin. The report predicts that trend will continue.
Corn production will continue to be affected by the changing weather patterns, while soybeans have a two in three chance of seeing higher yields in the short term. Farmers would also see decreased yields if they have to delay crop starts or plant shorter-season varieties of crops.
As agriculture systems have adapted to the climate, costs have increased, said Jack Williams, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and director of the Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research. That trend is expected to continue.
- Lakes: The report included predictions of rising Great Lakes temperatures, affecting fish species and leading to destructive algae blooms that affect water quality and can allow invasive species to thrive.
Warmer temperatures are also leading to less ice coverage in winter, which in the short term means ships can navigate more easily but will lead to dropping lake levels in the longer term, Williams said.
Events similar to that in which a foot of rainfall washed out an earthen dam and caused widespread flooding at Lake Delton in central Wisconsin in 2008 are expected to continue and put pressure on infrastructure.
- Forests: The report cites a 2011 study on forests in northern Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. Lead author Chris Swanston said studies show species will face harmful stress. Warmer temperatures and more specifically fewer days with below-zero temperatures will bring more pests that stress native trees, Swanston said.
Swanston also said different species may thrive as milder winters allow for increased populations of deer and other animals that can then forage on vegetation year-round. Those higher populations will in turn threaten the balance of forest ecosystems that would otherwise be kept in check by regular weather patterns.
“So what we might get are these intense rainfalls that cause erosion and don’t necessarily recharge the system because so much of it flows off the top of the soil,” Swanston said.
- Cities: The report said urban infrastructure would be tested as aging sewer systems and roadways face flooding. Most of the Midwest’s population lives in urban areas that are vulnerable to flooding and heat waves, the study says.
Jonathan Patz, a UW professor and director of the Global Health Institute, said people could develop respiratory issues from air pollution and dangers of water contamination. He said residents and the environment can benefit if policymakers focus on addressing climate change in various ways.