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EPA's latest Climate Indicators Report shows significant changes for Michigan, Great Lakes

EPA Climate Indicators Report, 2024

Climate change-driven weather patterns are having a growing impact on all aspects of life across most of the U.S. — and Michigan is no exception.

That’s according to the latest Climate Indicators Report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In Michigan and the Great Lakes region, some effects of climate change are particularly evident. One such area is Great Lakes ice cover.

“All five lakes have experienced some degree of long-term decrease, but the decrease is only statistically significant in one lake (Superior),” the report notes. “Years with much-lower-than-normal ice cover appear to have become more frequent during the past two decades, especially in lakes like Erie and Superior that have a history of freezing almost completely.”

The data show that the lakes are frozen 8-46 fewer days now than they were in the early 1970s, with decreases in lakes Ontario and Superior being “statistically significant.”

Great Lakes water levels and surface temperatures have also been changing. While lake levels have fluctuated, sometimes dramatically, from year to year, average surface temperatures in all five Great Lakes have increased since 1995.

“Scientists who use computer models to simulate future climate change are not sure whether Great Lakes water levels will increase or decrease overall in the future, but they generally agree that there will be larger year-to-year variability, driven by periods of drought and extreme precipitation,” the report says. “Another possible effect of warmer water, reduced ice cover, and increased evaporation is a corresponding increase in precipitation over nearby land, especially 'lake effect' snow."

"Rising water temperatures are also expected to expand the ranges of and give new advantages to some invasive species such as the zebra mussel, and to encourage the growth of certain waterborne bacteria that can make people ill," the report finds.

Another area where Michigan and the Midwest have been particularly impacted is when it comes to extreme single-day precipitation events. Nationwide, such brief, intense rainstorms have increased dramatically since the 1980s, often causing serious flooding. Short bursts of heavy precipitation can have other negative impacts too, such as causing crop damage and soil erosion.

Temperature-wise, the report also found that Michigan had one of the biggest drops in the number of “heating degree days” over the past few decades. That means that as temperatures have warmed overall, people now have fewer days where they need to heat their homes.

Overall, the report concludes that “EPA’s indicators show multiple lines of compelling evidence that climate change is increasingly affecting people’s health, society, and ecosystems in numerous ways.”

And those effects are becoming increasingly obvious. “Extreme heat, flooding, and wildfires have become more common, harming human health, threatening livelihoods, and causing costly damage,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement. “Regular updates to the data in the Climate Indicators website and report help us track these unprecedented changes so we are better informed in our shared work to confront the crisis.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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