Great Lakes Futures Project & Extreme Weather

  • Courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video, Flickr

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

A new project is going to try to predict the future of the Great Lakes. 

It’s appropriately named: the Great Lakes Futures Project.  It’s a collaboration of 21 universities from the U.S. and Canada. 

Don Scavia is the director of the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan. He’s one of four project leaders.  He says students will team up with a counterpart from the other country, along with a faculty mentor.  The teams will develop white papers outlining the biggest things driving change in the Great Lakes region. 

“They’ll be looking at things like climate, economics, demographics, chemical and biological pollution, invasive species. What have the trends been in the past 50 years and what do we expect trends to look in the next 50 years?”

Scavia says climate change is making everything more complicated.

“Almost everything we see, every one of those stresses we worry about are getting more difficult because of climate change, because of the change in precipitation patterns, because of the warming of the lakes, because of the warming of the atmosphere in the region, makes those standard problems even worse, so it really is the set of problems we’re used to on steroids.”

Scavia says the university teams will hold a workshop in January.  They’ll ask government agencies, industries and environmental groups to join them.  And the group will talk about the best ways to manage the Great Lakes in the future.

The project will cost about $200,000 dollars. The 21 universities are splitting the bill.

(music bump)

This is the Environment Report.

Here’s one of those headlines that’ll probably confirm your hunch:

Weather-wise, this January through September was the most extreme the country’s ever experienced.  Kate Wells tallies up some of the local ripple effects:

Let’s just flip back through the 2012 calendar, shall we?

First, there was the winter-that-wasn’t.

“It started with the non-winter of 2012. It was one of the warmest Januarys and Februarys on record.”

That’s meteorologist Jeff Masters. He’s based in Ann Arbor and is a big name in the weather-blog world.

He says that warm winter led into a stormy spring, with a big tornado in March –

“Which ripped through Dexter, Michigan, causing a lot of damage there. And in addition to March we had summer in March.”

Weird, unprecedented 80 degree days in early spring, that tricked all our apple blossoms into blooming and killing off that crop.

And that was all just a warm up to this summer. Literally.

“You never see corn like this this time of year. No ears.”

That’s Michigan farmer Jon Drozd speaking to MLive reporters this summer.

“’88 was the worst drought anyone had ever seen. Until now. Now this one’s the worst.”

All of Michigan’s counties were declared disaster areas. Nationally, it was the third most expensive disaster in U.S. history.

Plus, it came with some of the hottest days and worst air pollution Detroit has ever seen… and a bumper crop of West Nile virus.

If all of this makes you feel uneasy, meteorologist Jeff Masters says he’s hearing that a lot.

“Something is up with the weather. Absolutely. You don’t have to be a meteorologist to know that.”

He says Michigan’s climate has reached a sort of tipping point.

“I think we’ve moved into a new climate regime. I mean, the climate that I knew growing up is no longer our climate. We’ve moved to a new, higher energy climate.”

Masters says that means more extremes on both ends: massive droughts and frequent storms.

So when it comes to extreme weather, 2013 just might give 2012 a run for its money. For the Environment Report, I’m Kate Wells.

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