North Dakota the “epicenter of climate change”

Weather in Cavalier County can be wild and unpredictable, especially these past several years. From the record-breaking precipitation in 2016 to the drought in 2018, weather can be a farmer’s best friend or worst enemy.

Posted 4/4/19

By Melissa Anderson

Dr. Adnan Akyuz from North Dakota State University, along with several other representatives of weather and climate study centers, held the Northern Plains Climate Product, Service and User Engagement Workshop at NDSU on Thursday, March 28. The event brought those who “provide information about the weather and those who use that information” together, giving both the opportunity to interact during the workshop.

Presenters included individuals from the following groups:

• National Weather Service office in Grand Forks, N.D.- Greg Gust

• High Plains Regional Climate Center – Natalie Umphlett

• North Dakota Atmospheric Resource Board – Darin Langerud

• North Dakota State Climate office – Dr. Adnan Akyuz

• U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northern Plains Climate Hub- Director Dannele Peck

This unique event gave researchers the opportunity to compare notes and diversify the services that can be offered to the general public in terms of understanding climate and weather. One of the main takeaways from the workshop was how the changing climate has directed the research and services of those organizations present.

Dr. Adnan Akyuz had startling information related to the changing climate and weather patterns that are being experienced in the Northern Plains and especially in North Dakota.

“North Dakota is almost 3º warmer than 100 years ago. We are the epicenter of climate change,” Dr. Akyuz stated.

According to Dr. Akyuz, North Dakota has the steepest trend in the United States for increasing temperature. This is occurring mostly during the winter months.  If North Dakota were to experience record-breaking temps for the next 30 years, the climate would be similar to that of South Dakota. While North Dakota currently sits at the top of the ten coldest states in the continental U.S. at 40.9º, South Dakota is at the very bottom at only 45º. Yet that 4.1º difference creates a vastly different agricultural landscape.

“Based on extrapolation, it will take roughly 85 years to reach 45º,” Dr. Akyuz said.

As the world warms up, North Dakota is showing the biggest signs of it with weather pattern changes leaving many wondering what will happen next. This makes the already difficult challenge of weather prediction even harder for the northern most state in the Northern Plains region. Dr. Akyuz notes that melting sea ice in the Arctic is impacting the Pacific jet stream.

The weather and warming climate are giving North Dakota a longer growing season as well. Current data shows that the state is increasing the accumulated growing degree days by 1.2 days per decade.

This impact will be felt in crop rotation decision, disease pressures, soil management and overall soil health. The resilience of crops depends on the climate both ecologically and economically.

“If farmers realize that climate is changing, there is the risk of using the wrong variety that would not have time to mature,” Dr. Akyuz said. “For many, the opportunity outweighs the challenge.”

One of the tools that Dr. Akyuz and his colleagues at the North Dakota State Climate office have available are years of data for anyone interested in seeing the weather and climate history of North Dakota. As climatologists, meteorologists, and others who work on the collection and analysis of climate and weather research, one aspect that hangs over them all is the issue of funding.

Government policy is a major influence on what will receive funding and what will not. Currently climate research is one of the lowest funded areas. For many years the funding of science research has held steady despite the increased demand in services. Funding from the federal and even state levels creates a very competitive environment amongst researchers. To make a tough issue even tighter is that sometimes the available funding does not correspond with what end-users report as being needed.

This is why the Northern Plains Climate Product, Service and User Engagement Workshop was held. Not only was the workshop a way of connecting researchers and service providers with the end-user but also a way to ensure there is no overlap. Future efforts by the organizations will include taking on the challenge of informing and explaining the results of the research in a manner that the average person will understand.

This article will part of a series on topics discussed at the Northern Plains Climate Product, Service and User Engagement Workshop.