Climate Change Left a Devastating Wake in Wisconsin, Across the U.S. in 2020

Washington, D.C. — Extreme weather and record-breaking storms driven by climate change were unrelenting during 2020, causing billions in damages, burning millions of acres, and killing hundreds, according to a compilation released today by Climate Power. 

That destruction was felt throughout Wisconsin, as the state faced severe storms that took a steep economic toll amid the economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The data draws a painful picture of the harm of 2020. Wisconsin experienced dangerous flooding throughout the summer, forcing residents to evacuate during the ongoing pandemic, destroying homes, and making roads impassable. At least one person died from the flooding. The Badger State was also hit by high winds, tornados, and localized flooding stemming from the derecho that devastated large parts of the Midwest in August. Heavy rains resulted in eight straight months of record-high water levels in Lake Michigan, which eroded the shoreline and destroyed coastal communities.

Extreme heat also plagued Wisconsin, part of a worldwide trend driven by climate change. According to a statistical analysis done by NCEI scientists, 2020 is very likely to rank among the three-warmest years on record. September 2020 was the hottest September on the globe in 141 years of record keeping. The same is true for November. April and May 2020 both tied previous temperature records. 

“Wisconsin’s cycle of scorching heat followed by severe storms offers a grim glimpse into our future if we fail to take bold, immediate climate action. The relentless storms and extreme temperatures impacted every Wisconsinite, with Black and Brown communities facing disproportionate harm,” said Meghan Schneider, a spokesperson for Climate Power 2020. “If we do not act now, the climate disasters we saw in 2020 will be our new normal — the consequences of which will be catastrophic.” 

Below is a snapshot of the climate crisis and its toll on Wisconsin’s communities and across the country this year. You can see a full month-by-month list of climate events from 2020 HERE

  • Damaging Derecho –  In August, a derecho brought severe storms and damaging winds across much of the country, impacting communities from the Dakotas to Wisconsin. While the winds had weakened somewhat by the time the storm reached Wisconsin, the derecho spurred three tornados and flooding.
  • Extreme Heat – Wisconsin’s experienced severe heat throughout much of June, with an average temperature that was 2.5 degrees warmer than the average from the previous century. This is part of a warming pattern seen around the world due to climate change.
  • Lake Michigan Reaches Record High – This year, Lake Michigan experienced eight straight months of record-high water levels. This took a devastating toll on Wisconsin’s lakeshore communities, destroying homes and eroding land along the shore.
  • When The Dams Broke – In neighboring Michigan, heavy rains caused two dams to fail near Midland, unleashing extensive flooding and displacing around 10,000 residents during the pandemic.
  • Arctic On Fire – Wildfires blazed along the Arctic Circle, emitting a record 244 megatonnes of carbon dioxide as carbon-dense peatlands burned in Siberia. On June 20, a Russian town north of the Arctic Circle reached a record high of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, setting a new record for a region not exactly famous for heatwaves.
  • Five Storms At Once – For the first time since 1971, five named storms churned in the Atlantic Basin at one time. Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, and Vicky were each visible in the Atlantic Ocean on September 14th.
  • Devastating Western Wildfires – Unprecedented wildfires weren’t unique to Colorado. California experienced its worst wildfire season on record. Nationwide, 9.5 million acres burned and 2020 still has the potential to become the more devastating fire season in our nation’s history.
  • Sci-Fi Red Skies – This year’s wildfires exposed 8 million people to hazardous pollution levels. Air pollution was so thick in places it caused the skies to turn a nightmarish reddish-orange hue inspiring a viral video that paired drone footage of the San Francisco skyline to music from the movie Blade Runner 2049.