Wisconsin’s Climate: Warmer, Wetter, and More Extreme Events

The recently published report from the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) shows that the last two decades have been the warmest on record, and the past decade has been the wettest. Wisconsin is already feeling the impacts produced by this changing climate, which will become more drastic as the climate continues to warm.

Wisconsin’s climate continues to change in ways that are consistent with the projections from the 2011 WICCI Assessment Report. The decade from 2010 to 2019 was the wettest in Wisconsin since records began in the 1890s, with the statewide annual average precipitation increasing 17 percent since 1950. Wisconsin is also getting warmer, with average temperatures increasing by 3 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1950s. Not only are we getting more precipitation, we are also experiencing more highly extreme storm events. For example, heavy daily precipitation events across Wisconsin show a rising trend in recent decades. While rare, these events are exceedingly damaging.

A narrow creek winds through a woodland area
Koshkonong Creek. Photo by Kevin Sink

All seasons and regions of Wisconsin are getting warmer and wetter, but winters are warming more rapidly than summers, and nighttime low temperatures are warming faster than daytime high temperatures. Our winters are also getting wetter, with an increase in winter precipitation of over 20 percent since 1950. Rain events during the winter are particularly concerning because water that falls on frozen, bare ground is more likely to carry runoff that worsens water quality.

The Climate Working Group found that these changes — warmer, wetter, with more extreme events — will continue. As the climate continues to warm and impacts worsen, groups that cannot afford to move or adapt will be most at risk.

But there is hope. The WICCI Climate Working Group recommends investments in greenhouse gas emission reductions. There is hope for the future but it’s up to us.

This article is part of a series highlighting the contribution from each WICCI Working Group for the 2021 WICCI Assessment Report.

Support WICCI

Gifts to the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) Program Fund provide general, discretionary program support and are used to enhance and expand WICCI’s teaching, research, and public service roles. Gifts are also used to support partnership-building activities, include faculty, staff, and student recruitment, retention, and morale.

The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) is a statewide collaboration of scientists and stakeholders formed as a partnership between UW–Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. WICCI’s goals are to evaluate climate change impacts on Wisconsin and foster solutions.