Hot Enough For Ya?

Back when no one believed in global climate change, local meteorologist Bruce Watson sounded the alarm. Now that everybody's predicting disaster, he's bucking the trend again.

The scientist in Watson doesn't care for this departure from first principles. That's why he's particularly fond of "the Farmington data," the product of one of the state's longest-running high-quality weather stations.

These days the Farmington data is collected by retired electrical engineer Jerry Stoeffel, who lives in a rambler on a road named for his in-laws, longtime farmers in what is now an outer-ring south-metro suburb. Since 1888 the Akin family has been faithfully recording the vagaries of the local climate. Stoeffel took over the duties about 14 years ago, after his father-in-law's death.

"Quite frankly, I'm not much of a weather buff," says Stoeffel, who mails his data off to the Weather Bureau once a month. "It's just kind of a community service." Stoeffel also keeps one of Watson's instruments--a hygrothermograph that records temperature and humidity--in his observation box.

The Farmington data have confirmed the bock-beer warmup. But the station is an indicator of another trend: Back in the Sixties, when Stoeffel built his home, the spot was surrounded by open fields. It was that way until the mid-Eighties, when his father-in-law quit farming and sold off. In short order developers covered the land with homes and condos, scattered about as though they'd sprung up from windblown seed.

Watson has noticed the change in his data. Farmington, he points out, is beginning to show signs of the urban heat-island effect, the warming that occurs when concrete and asphalt replace green surfaces. It's evidence of how climate is influenced by human actions in more ways than one: "One of the things everybody always talks about is the floods in the Red River Valley. Well, back in the early days, they didn't have all these dikes along the river. The dikes have channeled the water, so of course you're going to have deeper floods because you're constricting the water to a narrow pipeline. Instead of building levees, people just ought to stay out of the flood plain."

And so, for all his doubts about some of the global-warming disaster scenarios, Watson remains convinced it's a bad idea for humans to mess with something as complex, wily, and ill-understood as the weather. "I think the die is pretty much cast for the 21st Century," he says, noting that human additions of
carbon dioxide to the atmosphere can take more than a century to dissipate. "We're
going to be putting a lot of this stuff in the air for a good, long time. But maybe we can mitigate the effects for the 22nd and 23rd Century." In the meantime, he says, things just might get "a little more pleasant for the average Minnesotan."

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