Minnesota is feeling the heat.
Global warming and El Niño combined to make last year the seventh-warmest in 121 years, University of Minnesota Extension climatologist Mark Seeley said Wednesday.
The first eight months were fairly typical, giving Minnesotans relief from weather extremes. In fact, the summer of 2015 was rated Minnesota's third-most pleasant in more than 112 years by the "Summer Glory Index" developed by the state Climatology Office. While outdoor lovers reveled in almost perfect summer weather, corn and soybean farmers chalked up the best growing season in 50 years, Seeley said.
Then came autumn, the state's second-warmest dating back to 1895. October and November were both warmer than usual, and September and December were the warmest in state history for each of those months, Seeley said. September's average statewide temperature hit 63.8 degrees, breaking the previous record of 63 in 1931 and 1897, he said. December's average statewide temperature was 24.8, up from the more typical temperature average of 12.9.
"That's a statistical rarity," Seeley said.
The warming of a Minnesota winter has some quietly gleeful about wearing shirtsleeves rather than wool sweaters in December. "We had lots of 50s, 60s and even 70s in November," said Pete Boulay, climatologist with the Department of Natural Resources. At least three times, the temperature hit 47 in December, making winter feel more like fall, he said.
The late-starting, nonwintry weather has both winners and losers, Boulay said. Cities are saving on sanding and salt costs. Homeowners are saving on their heating bills. But it also means plowing contractors who depend on a winter income have been sidelined part of this winter, he said.
Many of Minnesota's lakes were about three weeks late in freezing up, putting a huge hole in the state's ice fishing business. And a snow drought for much of the state has put a crimp in the season for cross-country skiers and snowmobilers. The Twin Cities has racked up only 17.2 inches of snow this season instead of the usual 29.4, Seeley said.
Despite the recent cold, the rest of January and early February are supposed to be warmer than normal, he said.
"As a person who has studied this for 40 years … it simply emphasizes that the pace of climate change combined with the episodic nature of El Niño will continue to give us very unusual years like this," Seeley said. "Here in Minnesota, we're experiencing some of the most pronounced changes."
News that 2015 was the Earth's warmest year has experts like Elizabeth Wilson, professor of energy and environmental policy and law at University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, shaking their heads.
"This report makes me feel sad. It makes me feel panicked," she said. "It sends my kids into [saying], 'You're ruining the world for us.' "
Wilson said she tries not to concentrate on the problem, but rather on the solution — finding better ways to produce and use energy to minimize greenhouse emissions.
"These reports are horrible, and they've been coming out for a long time," Wilson said. "At the same time, we have to keep going. We have to fundamentally change our systems if we're going to make it through this."