By Rob Chaney
Sick and tired of extreme news about climate change? Then go to Montana.
Newton’s third law of motion states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, weather included. Making conditions hotter, wetter or wilder someplace means they’ve got to get milder somewhere else. That somewhere happens to be western Montana and environs, according to researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Princeton University.
“Parts of Canada will be more often in the mild band than they are now,” said lead author Karin van der Wiel of NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University. “Other places will become too hot in the future, or have too much precipitation or humidity.”
Reached by Skype at her office in the Netherlands, van der Wiel said much of climate-change research focuses on the extremes: where more drought, tropical cyclones or other disastrous developments might intensify. Or it looks at changes in global averages, which make little sense to anyone without a degree in climate science.
“But there’s a lot of data that’s not extreme,” van der Weil said. “That’s why we decided to look for mild weather.”
By that, she means daily maximum temperatures between 64 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, daily precipitation less than 1 millimeter, and a daily average dewpoint temperature not exceeding 68 degrees. Dewpoint temperature is similar to relative humidity — the measure of how muggy the air feels.
And it should be noted that mild weather for humans could be catastrophic for other creatures. Wolverines depend on deep snowbanks for dens to raise their young. Noxious weeds out-compete native plants when days get drier and warmer.
Places like the U.S. Southeast, Latin America, central Africa and Asia could lose 14 to 50 mild days a year by the end of the century, the study found. That’s because those regions will get a lot more heat from global warming. This week, 2016 was designated the hottest year since climate records were established in 1880 — the third consecutive year to set that record.
Communities along the U.S.-Canadian border, Great Britain and Patagonia should see 10 to 15 more days of nice weather a year by 2100. While some of those places might have more uncomfortable summers, their springs, falls and winters should feel warmer and drier.
“We believe improving the public understanding of how climate change will affect something as important as mild weather is an area ripe for more research and more focused studies,” said study co-author Sarah Kapnick, a NOAA physical scientist. “Predicting changes in mild weather is not only important to business and industry, but can also contribute to research on the future of physical and mental health, leisure and urban planning.”
For examples, Seattle looks to stay relatively stable in both summer and winter. But Denver’s prediction calls for much less mild weather in summer months and quite a bit more between October and May. Los Angeles can expect warmer winters and hotter summers, while Miami’s graph calls for nothing but harsher conditions year-round. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem might lose much of its extreme reputation as its summers add 15 more nice days.
More mild weather means mixed blessings for Montana’s outdoors economy, according to Norma Nickerson at the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research.
“If we’re at a more comfortable level, people like that,” Nickerson said. “It might change the things people like to do if May looks more like July. Businesses can make more money.”
Warmer, milder weather could also hurt winter businesses like skiing and snowmobiling even as it extends opportunities for boating and bird-watching. One climate trend already in evidence around Montana is the swap of snow for rain. Precipitation falling in warmer winters lands as rainfall, which doesn’t help skiers in December or river-rafters in June.