Spring 2018

The climate guy

Photography by David Hansen

Extension climatologist Mark Seeley retired from the University of Minnesota in February after 40 years of educating Minnesotans in every corner of the state about weather and climate in an exacting yet folksy manner. The U’s Department of Soil, Water, and Climate established the Seeley Climate Fund to help ensure that his work continues.

How did you end up as a climatologist?

As a young man, I had my heart set on becoming a lawyer. Then I became a volunteer weather observer and changed course. It’s OK to do a do-over—that’s something I always tell students.

Did your work at the U change as the climate changed?

I spent my first 15 years designing weather and climate tools that dealt with farmers’ practical concerns, such as the storage and drying of crops. But after recognition came in the 1990s that the climate was changing, we had to transition to a mindset that said, OK, what does this mean for fresh water supply, stream management, transportation, and a variety of other things? So I branched out to work with energy providers, rural cooperatives, public works departments, and NGOs. I’m also regarded as Minnesota’s weather historian. I’ve gone through more of our historical data than anyone else.

What’s your assessment of the public’s climate literacy?

I think it’s improved a great deal. I’ve worked with the Minnesota Earth Science Teachers Association over the years, and quite a few of those teachers took an online credentialed course from me that gives them the basics of climate and weather. We’ve amplified climate literacy by putting it into the school curriculum. And in the 26 years I’ve been a commentator on MPR, I’ve seen our audience grow to almost 750,000. How many educators get to talk to that many people each week?