MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This Earth Day, WCCO is taking an in-depth look at the impacts of a fast-changing climate in Minnesota. Winter in the land of 10,000 lakes looks much different now than it once did.

The season is part of the state’s DNA. Blizzards and bone-chilling cold are just part of deal around here. But it’s our winters that are changing the fastest.

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Take the ice on our 10,000 lakes for example. Lakes now freeze over about nine days later than they did in 1967, and the ice gives out four to five days earlier — on average, that adds up to about two weeks’ less ice coverage.

That shrinking ice fishing season is catching some attention at Blue Ribbon Bait and Tackle. Dick “Griz” Grzywinski is known as a walleye whisperer who angled his way into the state and national fishing halls of fame.

“There’s never a bad day in fishing,” he said.

No matter the weather, even at 80 years old he makes it out there. But there’s no denying our warming winters are squeezing winter recreation.

“We’ve even worn hip boots or waders and get out to the ice, crawl out on top and then walk out, if you’re hardcore, you know,” he said.

John Hoxmeier, with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, says early ice-out and warming lakes are hurting walleye and pike production too.

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“I used to pull out my fish house onto the lake on my birthday, on Dec. 5, and now you can’t do that anymore,” he said.

Winter recreation, like ice fishing, is not just a hobby; it’s part of Minnesota’s identity, and it’s big business.

“It’s a passion of mine, and that’s why I want to protect it … It’s a culture we have in Minnesota. It also makes Minnesota a destination,” Hoxmeier said. “Fishing in Minnesota generates a lot of money.”

And it’s not all about us. The changes are subtle — less snow stays on the ground, and the cold snaps aren’t as cold.

“We’re not going to have perfect powder conditions every winter. We know that those days are gone now,” Minnesota DNR climatologist Kenny Blumenfeld said. “Northern Minnesota’s winters have eroded quickly. They’ve changed quickly, so a typical winter night in northern Minnesota is now about 7 degrees warmer than it was just several decades ago. Even when we look at how cold it felt this winter, we can look backwards and see it really wasn’t that cold, historically.”

There’s nothing subtle about it when you look at the big picture.

“We have seen in northern Minnesota, yes, some of the fastest changing winter conditions in the country,” Blumenfeld said. “This is our signature change that we’ve observed here.”

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Climatologists also say less snow pack can contribute to more warming.

Erin Hassanzadeh