Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Adapting to Minnesota's new winter

The streets were clear today, the sun was up, and the temperatures were the 20s (F). A fine day for a bicycle ride in Minnesota's year without winter.

Next winter I'll probably buy winter bike shoes and studded tires and plan to ride year round.

That's how short term adaptation works in Minnesota, where climate change is already personal. We'll be doing a lot more over the next few decades.

Beyond that, given current trends, the prognosis is poor.  I'm relatively sanguine about that. I mean, if we can't figure out something simple like CO2 emissions, then we weren't going to make it as a sentient species anyway. Might as well get it over with.

That's probably a century away though, lots of time for billions of us to experiment with short term adaptation. So, for the Twin Cities, what can we expect from our winters over the next decade? In particular, what can we expect in terms of Real Cold (RC, temp < 5F), Skiable Snow (SS, >8" base), and Skateable Ice (SI)?

Of course I don't really know. But that won't stop me from making some half-educated guesses. I expect winter in 2021 to be rather like this winter. That is no RC, no SS and no SI.

Between now and 2021 I expect 3-5 weeks total of Real Cold. We will complain bitterly -- because we'll be unused to it. I expect 3-4 winters of SS and 5-6 winters of SI.

That means we really can't rely on outdoor ice skating, sledding or nordic skiing. On the other hand, we can't dramatically reduce our snow clearing capacity because every year or two we'll still get dumped on. We can't plan on winter road work either, but some years it will be possible. Some years an exurban commute will be fine, other years it will be intolerable.  We'll still have to pay for alley snow clearance -- even for years when there isn't any snow to clear.

That's a big change. I can't estimate the economic impact, but I suspect the unpredictability will mean increased costs (but also more jobs?) from 2011 to 2023. After that, as snow accumulation becomes truly infrequent, costs will fall.

It's easier to predict what we'll need to do to adapt to an unpredictable winter. We'll do what Portland does. That means more community recreation centers with indoor soccer, indoor tennis, indoor golf and indoor swimming (all of which will increase our CO2 emissions). It means even more year round bicycling, perhaps with winter adapted bikes (corrosion-proof drive chains, internal gearing, wide studded tires, etc). Maybe more arenas ($$) and refrigerated ice rinks. St Paul and Minneapolis will invest more in clearing bike trails. Probably more of us will take holidays in other states ...

Any other thoughts on near term adaptations for Minnesota winter?

See also:

I particularly appreciated today's Salon article by Bill McKibben:

  • Salon: Climate change denial's new offensive

    "... the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by “16 scientists and engineers” headlined “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” The article was easily debunked...

    ... Of the 16 authors of the Journal article ... five had had ties to Exxon...

    ... If we spew 565 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere, we’ll quite possibly go right past that reddest of red lines. But the oil companies, private and state-owned, have current reserves on the books equivalent to 2,795 gigatons — five times more than we can ever safely burn. It has to stay in the ground. 

    ... in ecological terms it would be extremely prudent to write off $20 trillion worth of those reserves. In economic terms, of course, it would be a disaster, first and foremost for shareholders and executives of companies like ExxonMobil (and people in places like Venezuela)..."

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