Fast five: Climatologist talks climate change and water levels

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Ford stepped into the role formerly held by longtime state climatologist Jim Angel just a couple months ago. Ford, a Roanoke native, was an assistant professor in geography and environmental resources at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale before joining the Illinois State Water Survey team.

He recently spoke at a meeting at IllinoisValleyCommunity College about water quantity and climate impacts on water.

Here are five fast questions and answers from the new Illinois state climatologist.

1. Is it climate change or global warming or both?

“Often in many different circles, including scientific circles, unfortunately, you’ll hear global warming and climate change used interchangeably, but it’s two very different processes. Global warming causes changes in the climate.”

2. Speaking of global warming and climate change, does a really hot summer or really cold winter mean that global warming is not happening?

“It is often dismissed or confirmed by a single weather event. We have our climate, which is really our weather conditions, often defined by ‘normal’ weather, but there is no such thing as normal weather. Our climate is everything. It’s what happens, the variability, everything.

“When we see long-term trends in something like intense precipitation events, that’s indicative of a climate change. It doesn’t make sense to study the impact of climate change on one single event. What climate change does is it changes the probability of a likelihood of those types of events occurring.”

3. Warm or hot nights can be an issue for farmers, especially during pollination. What can we expect to see for nighttime temperatures in the future?

“The minimum temperature trend is twice as large as the maximum temperature trend since 1895. Our daily minimum temperatures are increasing about twice as fast as our daily maximum temperatures.

“Part of that is because of increased humidity and cloud cover. We have cloudy days, maximum temperatures are reduced, but when we have cloudy nights, minimum temperatures are increased.”

4. Lake Michigan levels, and water levels in some of the other Great Lakes, continue to be high. Why?

“Lake Michigan levels are near record high this year. A lot of that is because of an incredible amount of precipitation that the region got, not just in Illinois, but the entire region that drains into Lake Michigan, this spring.”

5. Any thoughts for what we can expect going into the winter?

“We’re going into the winter with pretty much near or above saturated soils. I just saw the outlooks. The ClimatePredictionCenter outlooks are showing an elevated probability of a wetter than normal winter for pretty much from here up into Wisconsin, into Canada and across to the Dakotas.

“If that outlook verifies, then we will get lots of precipitation on top of saturated soils. Here, we could see some pretty significant winter flooding if we are getting a lot of that rain, or snow that melts very quickly, on already saturated soils and rivers and streams get a pretty high streamflow.”

Jeannine Otto can be reached at 815-223-2558, ext. 211, or jotto@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Otto.

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