Wisconsin’s new climatologist is excited about the possibilities his position holds in terms of helping the community and educating students. He’s particularly eager to connect with the next generation on his journey to help others understand the state’s unique climate issues.
Steve Vavrus joined the Wisconsin State Climatology Office in 2023 as its new director and the state’s climatologist. Vavrus told The Daily Cardinal he plans to implement his strategy of the “Three I’s” — information, interpretation and investigation — into Wisconsin climate services.
For investigation, Vavrus works with observational data and computer climate models to help farmers use technology to better understand how Wisconsin’s changing climate affects their livelihood.
“Farmers depend heavily on weather information, and they’re at the mercy of a lot of weather variations,” Vavrus told the Cardinal.
This is one reason why the technology he is working with in the new Mesonet project is so impactful, he said. Mesonet involves a coordinated weather station in every county to deliver a variety of climate facts to farmers. Mesonet is funded through grants from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation as well as the Wisconsin Rural Partnership from the U.S Department of Agriculture.
It’s efficient and reliable, Vavrus said, ensuring all the same standards and tools are being used to monitor climate issues like soil moisture, temperature and wind. Plus, this information is easy to access for farmers because it is stored in technology they’re already using — apps.
As far as information goes, the State Climatology Office has a variety of resources and data on Wisconsin’s climate.
However, Vavrus believes the office “can help users separate what’s useful information and what’s actually not very credible.”
He plans to tackle this issue by giving citizens a more reliable interpretation of how their state is affected by climate change.
Even though Vavrus is optimistic about the good his position can bring to the state, he is still aware of the grave effects climate change has on Wisconsin and its implications for students.
“We have a pretty good sense that we’re going to get warmer, and overall, we’re probably going to get wetter in Wisconsin,” he said. “But what are the surprises going to be?”
The issue for students isn’t that they aren’t less resilient to the climate changes, Vavrus said, but that they’re more exposed to them.
“Young people in general are more concerned about climate change than older people — all of the surveys show this — and that’s really encouraging. They should be, frankly, because people who are younger are going to experience more climate change,” Vavrus acknowledges.
But interestingly enough, his advice encourages students to think about how their major affects climate change.
“Climate is interdisciplinary,” Vavrus said, stressing the idea that STEM majors aren’t the only fields climate change affects. “Students can come in from all sorts of different angles to get into the field of climate because it is welcoming of all different perspectives.”
Considering the unique ways different careers impact our climate and having students cognizant of intersections gets them to think more creatively about how to solve climate change, he added.
Vavrus’s excitement for his position and the optimism he has for how students are becoming involved with the climate is inspiring. As he acknowledged, students are already very concerned about their changing climate, and having someone equally as uplifting and passionate as the state’s climatologist is an asset worth taking note of.