Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts’ 2021 Assessment Report

The 2021 report features new climate data and explains the issues and impacts of a changing climate on Wisconsin residents and describes the scientific progress made toward solutions.


Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts – 2021 Assessment Report: Wisconsin’s Changing Climate


Overview of the Report

The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) has released their 2021 Assessment Report on Wisconsin’s Changing Climate. This report features new data since its last update in 2011.  The report emphasizes the progression of climate change in individual sectors, and solutions to combat the change. The featured sectors include air, land, water, built environment, and people. The report is offered digitally and contains links to full interviews, stories, and working groups. These digital links offer easy access to additional information about topics and projects. This report emphasizes that Wisconsin can play a big role in reducing the impacts of climate change due to our vast natural lands that can store carbon.


Photo credit: Adam Bechle

Coastal Resilience

The Coastal Resilience working group is featured within the Built-Environment sector. Climate change is impacting wave sizes, water levels, and storm surges which impact the slope stability of the bluffs along the Great Lakes. The report offers potential solutions than can be enacted by city planners, resource managers, and residents. Some of the solutions highlighted by the Coastal Resilience group include the following:

  • Conduct vulnerability assessments to identify locations that are at risk.
  • Consider future as well as current conditions and avoid making decisions based solely on current conditions.
  • Address root causes instead of temporary fixes.
  • Relocate away from eroding shoreline and floodways when possible.
  • Consider solutions that work with nature to protect the coast.
  • Be aware of how action on one property may impact adjacent properties.
  • Engage the community and work together.
  • Be proactive!


What does a Changing Climate look like?

To understand what a changing climate looks like in Wisconsin, we will take a look at the fluctuating water levels of the Great Lakes. To begin, it is important to understand that an area of interest can hold a certain amount of water (this is called “storage”). “Storage” is the net amount of water held in the region. Each storage area has net inputs and outputs of water. For simplicity, inputs can be generalized as precipitation, whereas outputs can be generalized as evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration accounts for the evaporation from bodies of water and transpiration from plants. Great Lakes water levels fluctuate over a range of several feel depending on balance of precipitation and evapotranspiration.

“A tug-of-war within the hydrologic cycle of a continental freshwater basin,” a research letter written by A.D. Gronewold from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, evaluates the connection between fluctuating water levels, precipitation and evapotranspiration. Gronewold finds that when water levels are high, it is correlated with years of extreme precipitation levels. When water levels are low, it is correlated with years of extreme evapotranspiration. Gronewold highlights Lake Michigan’s surprising swing from the lowest water levels on record in 2013 to the highest water levels in 2019 and 2020; noting that water level data has been collected since the 1860s. The source of massive fluctuations come from the fluctuating climate and massive inter-annual changes. Gronewold notes that “extreme water level fluctuations on the Great Lakes are a response to an increase in both the magnitude and variability of precipitation, land surface evapotranspiration, and lake evaporation.” The report finds a correlation between changing temperatures, evapotranspiration, precipitation, and water levels. The Coastal Resilience working group refers to planning for these inter-annual changes and trends. Being aware of these water level fluctuations can allow for preparation for and prevention of coastal hazard impacts.


Read the full WICCI report here!

Looking for a Coastal Resilience snapshot? Check out the Coastal Resilience Working Group here.



Gronewold, A. D., Do, H. X., Mei, Y., & Stow, C. A. (2021). A tug-of-war within the hydrologic cycle of a continental freshwater basin. Geophysical Research Letters, 48, e2020GL090374. https://doi.org/10.1029/2020GL090374