My mother always cautioned, "Be careful what you wish for – you might just get it!"
I think all of the rain we have received this year is a direct result of too many of us wishing and praying for rain much of last year. I think we must have prayed a little too hard – that's my theory at least.
According to Bill Bland, University of Wisconsin Extension soil and water conservation specialist, Wisconsin will get warmer and wetter in years to come, so get used to it.
Last year, Madison had 29 days with temperatures at 90 degrees or above. Five of those days were 100 degrees or above. Normal for Madison is nine days of temperatures in the 90s during a year. So far this year we haven't had any 90-degree days where I live in east central Wisconsin. We'll see how long that lasts with our county fair this week! 2009 was a lot like this year – wet and cool. We only had one day in 2009 at my house where we saw the thermometer climb to 90 degrees or above.
So you ask, it's not hot this year, why worry?
Temperatures above 100 degrees or a cool spring is not climate change, Bland contends. The probability of these extremes is climate change. Global warming happens slowly. And not all years are going to be hotter or wetter. But, Bland says, if you look at the averages, we're progressively getting warmer and wetter in Wisconsin. We may be in a sweet spot here, however. There are a lot worse places to be than in Wisconsin. Some skeptics dispute the claim that the climate is changing. But the claim is backed up by facts. The growing season has lengthened by as much as three weeks between 1950 and 2006 in central Wisconsin.
Anyone reading this blog, he says, will be able to adapt to the gradual climate changes that will occur during our lifetimes. "But when you get a few generations out, everything is really going to be significantly impacted by what we are doing now," he cautions.
What is really a rare event now – heat waves, heavy rain events – will become more and more frequent. Those extremes are what knock us back on our heels.
Our scientific understanding of global warming has been building since the 1800s.
"From what the scientists in the 1800s witnessed to the latest satellite observations of the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet all point to the effects of carbon dioxide on the climate," Bland says.
What does that mean?
Well, if you're on the fence about installing central air conditioning, you put it in – you're going to need it. If you're on the town board and you're trying to decide between a big culvert and a smaller culvert, you put in the bigger culvert. We learned the need for larger culverts in several counties throughout the state that experienced flooding and had culverts and roads washed out in June of this year and in 2008. And you beef up soil conservation efforts on your farm. More frequent large rain events will lead to more soil erosion. Call your local county land conservation office to learn more about cost-sharing conservation programs that pay up to 90% of the cost of a project that will help you keep your soil where it belongs.
I'm not a scientist, but I am 54 years old and I've lived long enough to notice a few things about the weather that have changed during my lifetime.
*For example, the month of September used to be a transitional month with warm, sunny days in the early part of the month and nasty, cold and windy days by the end of the month. Now, September is often the nicest month of the year in Wisconsin with highs in the 70s.
*"Expo weather" meant it would be rainy, windy and cold during World Dairy Expo the first week of October. Seven or eight of the last 10 Expos have been warm and beautiful – maybe even borderline hot – giving new meaning to the phrase "Expo weather."
*Spring seems to be more of a mixed bag, but many years farmers in southern Wisconsin are able to get in the fields and start planting corn the last week of April and even earlier. When I was a kid, corn wasn't planted before May 1 and most farmers weren't able to start planting much before Mother's Day.
Time to wake up
Climate change is often misunderstood and over politicized. It's time to recognize the science and start to be open to understanding it and end the denial.
"That's the first step if our values include caring about future generations or poor people in developing countries or endangered polar bears," Bland says.
Climate change impacts us too, but for now we have the resources to adapt. Polar bears and poor people do not, and it may prove very costly for future generations.