Mr. Blue Sky

Mark Seeley understands your weather addiction – and he’s here to help

Mark Seeley is a climatologist and meteorologist with the University of Minnesota’s extension service, so if all you want to know is what the winter holds, he’s predicting a mild season, temperature-wise, given the El Niño factor. Now that you know, let’s move on to bigger things. ¶ The conventional wisdom on why Minnesotans are obsessed with the weather is that we get so darn much of it—tornados, blizzards, temperatures that can swing 60 degrees in a day. Seeley has another theory: Minnesotans, more than most people, like to be prepared. Which is why Seeley’s new book, Minnesota Weather Almanac, for which he researched 200 years of weather history, is so confounding, assuring us on the one hand that bizarre and terrible weather trends have always been with us (if that’s any sort of assurance) while demonstrating that climate change may ultimately turn our world upside down. ¶ Seeley, who has hosted a popular call-in weather show on Minnesota Public Radio for 14 years, is a meteorologist of the old school—no Doppler doo-dads, no backyard weather garden, no hairpiece. With a hale and hearty manner and a shirt-pocket full of pens, he talks turkey to farmers, energy producers, school principals, and anyone else who has a vested interest in knowing what the winds will blow in. And he doesn’t just talk about the weather, he does something about it, most recently leading the state-sponsored development of “living snow fences”—flanks of trees, lilacs, and the like planted along highways to block blowing snow, which Seeley refers to as “Mother Nature’s blessing.”

The California native ran into one such “blessing” when he moved here from Houston in 1978—a blizzard closed Interstate 35 and stranded him in Albert Lea. Even now, after three decades of forecasting (and forestalling) weather, Seeley remains in awe of atmospheric phenomena, describing the weather not just as one more thing to prepare for, like road construction, but as the mercurial force of nature that of course it is. This past July, for instance, may have been the hottest since 1936, when Minnesota set its record high of 114 degrees. But Seeley loves to point out that 1936 was doubly freakish, as the state’s long-time record low of minus-50 (broken in the 1990s) was recorded that winter—a six-month swing of 164 degrees that still makes him shake his head.

Meteorologists love Minnesota. Smack dab in the middle of North America, it’s buffeted by nearly all manner of weather patterns, and, save for mountains, contains a fairly wide range of environments. For these reasons, Seeley says it’s among the best places in the world to observe climate change. He is frequently asked to address the issue of global warming, a trend he believes should be countered with the same rectitude as racism or poverty. “[Humans] affect the environment where we live as much or more than any other species,” he says. “If you accept that everything is God’s creation, it’s a moral problem.”

Seeley believes a lack of scientific consensus on whether the current quickening of climate change is completely attributable to humans shouldn’t preclude action, since some degree of human impact is undeniable. “What footprint of your life,” he asks, “do you want to leave?”