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CHANGING SEASONS: Minnesota's state climatologist departs

MINNEAPOLIS After 25 years, Jim Zandlo logged off for the final time Wednesday as Minnesota's state climatologist -- probably closing out of a program or two that he wrote. Zandlo oversaw efforts to convert nearly a century's worth of handwritten...


After 25 years, Jim Zandlo logged off for the final time Wednesday as Minnesota's state climatologist -- probably closing out of a program or two that he wrote.

Zandlo oversaw efforts to convert nearly a century's worth of handwritten weather records into an accessible online archive, making Minnesota one of the first states to do so. A decade ago, he helped the National Climatic Data Center figure out ways to reduce "bias" in climate records from land-use changes, relocation of weather instruments and the time of day that readings are made, among other factors. Zandlo also tirelessly recruited volunteer precipitation observers, producing a statewide network with nearly six times the coverage the National Weather Service has. Through much of his career, he also has monitored the slow warming of Minnesota's climate.

In retirement, Zandlo, 59, plans to pursue research he couldn't while on the state payroll: developing an instrument to detect the disappearance of ice from remote lakes in spring and tools to help better assess the likelihood of precipitation extremes over broad areas instead of at individual sites.

"He's done pioneering work," said University of Minnesota Extension climatologist Mark Seeley. "His work will live beyond his career as state climatologist."


His successor has not been named.

The following is a question-and-answer session with Zandlo:

Q. How's the climate?

A. Is the temperature changing in any way? Is the precipitation changing in any way? The answer is yes to both of those. We've seen some warming in the state, and some increases in the amount of annual precipitation we get. Those are still relatively modest. That said, they're going in the same direction by the same order of magnitude as we should expect because of impacts of things that can change our climate -- changes in the composition of the atmosphere.

Q. How has this job changed in the past 25 years?

A. The key word here is "paper." In 1981, if somebody called and wanted some data, it started with paper and it ended with paper. We sent them something in the mail. Now we step aside and say, "Have at it." Today you can go online and get a graph or a map or some kind of climate information that didn't exist before you started.

Q. Weather records in the United States are regarded as complete going back to 1891. Is that enough to draw a complete picture of Minnesota's climate?

A. If climate wasn't changing, probably so. But it's always changed. Now it might not be just due to extra volcanoes going off in the world, or the sun changing its output, but wholesale changes in landscape, and in the composition of the atmosphere that are not just naturally driven. It's always been changing, but now we've got new forcings.


It's tough to [measure] if you don't have a lot of data across the landscape. But we do have a really good backdrop going back 30-plus years, with very high quality through time. We had some quality control issues before 1977. Some of those observations were done by schools. It was an assignment. There's a big difference between "You have to do it" and "I'm doing this because I really like it." It's hard to ferret some of that stuff out. But we're finally getting to the point where we can use this stuff climatologically.

Q. Does what you're seeing about the climate of Minnesota alarm you?

A. Yeah, it does. I did grow up in Minnesota. I think of summers as having some warm days but not too many, and winters as being cold enough to feel like winter, and having enough snow to go play in. These are the features of the climate that keep me here. Those things could very well be changing. The good news about that is that we all tend to have fairly short memories. You get used to it and adapt to it. My contention is that many of us already have adapted. When we have a winter like this last winter, it's like, "Wow, it's an unusual winter!" But it's winter that in our climate we should expect.

We've adapted, but animals and plants can't necessarily. And that's where the rub comes. It might be that your garden pests don't disappear over the winter, or West Nile virus might be more prevalent. Those are the things that really might have more significant impacts on us.

Q. 60 below, 114 above, 36 inches of snow or 15.1 inches of rain in 24 hours . ...Will Minnesota see any of these again?

A. Yes. All those are still part of our climate.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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