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State of the Great Lakes 2023? Region should be prepared for more climate change effects

Besty Kling sitting on the left speaking with Richard Spinrad who is sitting on the right.
Zaria Johnson
Ideastream Public Media
Forum moderator and chief meteorologist with WKYC Betsy Kling (left) speaking with Administrator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Richard Spinrad at the City Club of Cleveland's State of the Great Lakes on Friday, November 3, 2023.

The state of the Great Lakes was the focus at Friday’s City Club forum in Cleveland, and the forecast is for fundamental shifts in the region’s weather caused by climate change.

The key word, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Richard Spinrad said, is more.

During the State of the Great Lakes forum, Spinrad said climate change is going to mean more lake effect snow, greater changes to water levels in the Great Lakes and more smoke coming from wildfires elsewhere.

“We're putting more energy into the system. That's what climate change is all about,” he said. “It has to come out somehow. It's going to come out in the form of these storms, and they're going to have a great impact.”

The best thing to do as a region is be prepared, Spinrad said.

“A city like Cleveland in its planning needs to be thinking about what is this going to do?” he said. “Are we prepared? Is our infrastructure, our snow removal infrastructure, prepared for the changes we're going to see for snow? Are we prepared … for changes in things like harmful algal blooms in the lake or hypoxia in the lake?”

Spinrad says developing technology is providing new tools in identifying climate trends and impacts, including the use of AI.

Climate impacts on Lake Erie will influence the economy, health and infrastructure of the Great Lakes Region, Spinrad said, since Cleveland and the Great Lakes play a role in the region’s trade and finances.

“All of these aspects of what we do fit into the economy of Cleveland, the educational system, the financial system,” Spinrad said. “How much of Cleveland, first of all, is influenced by trade through the city? Well, 95% of trade depends on understanding the environmental dynamics. What about the energy security here? What about water security?”

But the biggest challenge in achieving climate resilience is not water quality, algal blooms or lack of funding. Instead, it’s a lack of environment and climate education, Spinrad said.

"If you walk out the street here in Cleveland and ask people to list the top three or four things they're concerned about, you might be looking to hear. 'I'm worried about what environmental change - climate change - is going to do for my kids and for me.' We need to elevate that."

More people are learning of climate change as they feel the effects, Spinrad said, but he added that the region should continue targeted education efforts to motivate change.

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.