Record-setting year for Harmony even if most residents didn’t notice

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Reflections from my Notebook

Harmony residents probably weren’t aware they were living through a monumental year in 2018, but the city set the Minnesota record for most annual precipitation.  Harmony reported 60.21 inches of precipitation in 2018, nearly double its average amount.

The amount crushed the not-so-old state record set by Waseca, which had 56.24 inches of precipitation in 2016. The precipitation in Harmony last year was about the same as the annual average total in New Orleans.

The record isn’t official yet because the amount hasn’t been validated by the National Weather Service, but there is no reason to believe it won’t stand. The service hasn’t been in full operation yet in 2019 due to the extended government shutdown.

If it weren’t for Harmony, Caledonia would have set the state record as it recorded 57.97 inches of precipitation. One intense thunderstorm on Aug. 28 played a role in Caledonia’s total as that storm delivered 8.10 inches of rain. 

Harmony, though, missed out on massive daily rain events, which is why most people there may not realize just how much rain fell over the year.

The story in Harmony was frequent rains.

Harmony normally records about seven one-day rainfalls of one inch or greater per year. In 2018, there were 18 such days, according to Mark Seely, emeritus professor of climatology at the University of Minnesota. Harmony also averages about two days per year with two inches of rainfall or more. In 2018, there were seven such days recorded in Harmony.

It’s likely a coincidence since bookings are made far in advance, but Seely will soon be visiting the heart of Minnesota’s record rainfall belt as another southeastern Minnesota city — Mabel — is number four behind Waseca on the all-time state record list with 55.55 inches of precipitation in 2018. Seely will be speaking at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in Lanesboro Saturday, Feb. 2. His topic at the Dinner on the Bluff event: The Future of Farming in the Age of Climate Change.

Yes, the unusual weather in southeastern Minnesota is likely related to climate change.

It isn’t just southeastern Minnesota that is being affected by a changing climate. Minnesota has set 150 new state records and 17,000 new daily climate records in the past decade.

However, like the people in Harmony, the drastic changes in our state climate aren’t obvious as they occur over time, often without catastrophic events. We didn’t have the raging fires that hit California or the extensive flooding that hit the East Coast due to hurricanes.

Seely says Minnesota is changing from “Bold North” to “Subtle North.”

The subzero temperature readings this week may make us dispute that characterization by Seely, but the evidence backs him up. Minnesota winters have warmed more than 5 degrees on average since 1970, making winter the season most affected by climate change in Minnesota.

The evidence is all around us. Earlier this month contractors were excavating earth for utility work, something that used to be unheard of in Minnesota during the middle of January. We also experienced rain — Harmony set a daily record of 0.81 inches on Dec. 27 when the temperature reached 42 — and fog after Christmas.

The subtle changes in the summer weather may also mask the deviations from the norm as Seely has pointed out that we aren’t necessarily getting 100-degree days. Instead excessive heat advisories in Minnesota are increasing because the heat index spikes due to water vapor content, which is greater in warmer climates.

Seely was one of several experts to testify in a recent hearing at the Capitol before the newly created Minnesota House Energy and Climate Finance and Policy Division.

“There’s geographic disparity in what climate change is doing,” Seeley said. “Right here in Minnesota, in the heart of the North American continent, we occupy a piece of American real estate that is seeing some of the most profound changes of anywhere in the country.

"Climate change has occurred for four-and-a-half billion years, as long as Planet Earth has existed. But the pace of change year-by-year, decade-by-decade, we are living through right now, is totally unprecedented.”

Those unprecedented changes are much more important than people dealing with the increasingly unpredictable weather. Scientists testified at the hearing that the changes mean more invasive species will enter Minnesota and some of our established vegetation and wildlife — even the loon, Minnesota’s state bird that the Audubon Society fears may one day leave for a cooler climate and cleaner lakes — are disappearing.

One recurring theme among members’ questions at the committee hearing was how agriculture will be affected. A study cited during the hearing concluded that rising temperatures will mean lower crop yields, with yields for both corn and soybeans decreasing 1 ton per 2.5 acres for each degree the average annual temperature increases.

Seely will bring other insights to his talk in Lanesboro. The climatologist isn’t one to lecture about climate change, but instead seeks to develop conversations so scientists can do accurate research to help people in Minnesota understand and cope with the changes.

“In our own Great Lakes Region there are measurable changes going on, including warmer temperatures, higher frequency of tropical-like dew points, and an overall increase in the variability of precipitation,” Seeley wrote in a preview of his Lanesboro talk. “These trends suggest that our climate will continue to change. This is important for us to understand if we are to adapt effectively, especially in our agricultural practices.”