Chicago Breaks 72-Year Snow-Less Record

Lack of snow translates to savings for municipalities but causes environmental experts to sound warnings

As of Wednesday, Chicago has a new weather record: 320 days without at least an inch of snowfall.

That breaks a 72-year-old record last set in the season of 1939-1940.

Sunday's dusting pushed the city's snow total to 1.3 inches for the entire season, a rarity for a city that saw its largest snowfall ever just two winters ago.

According to NBC Chicago meteorologist Andy Avalos, Chicago winters usually produce 11.5 inches by this time of the year. That means we've had a mere 10 percent of typical snow to-date.

This mild winter is no stranger to record-busters. The record for most snow-less days set in 1994 fell Dec. 10 after Chicago went 281 days without snow accumulation and unseasonably warm temperatures.

The record for latest snowfall of at least 1 inch in a calendar year is approaching, as well. Jan. 17, 1899 marks the latest arrival of snow in city history.

But What's Good for the Goose....

That lack of snow is providing some relief for the city's bean counters and its taxpayers.

"It was in 2011 we used over 260,000 tons of salt. In 2012, we used a little bit over 100,000 tons. And so far, in 2013, we've used about 4,800 tons of salt. So, quite a big difference," said Streets and Sanitation Deputy Commissioner Dominic Salerno.

That translates to a big financial savings. Salerno said a typical year of snow removal runs about $20 million.

... May Not Be Good for the Gander

Experts warn that the lack of snow will likely affect the water table later in the season. By this time of the year, Lake Michigan and the Chicago River would typically be frozen over, sealing in water. But that water is evaporating this year.

"The effect of a drought has been a devastating impact on the agricultural economy," said Henry Henderson, the director of the Midwest bureau of the National Resources Defense Council. "These low levels in Lake Michigan could make the river reverse itself now into Lake Michigan, so we would have the problem of sewage going into southern Lake Michigan."

The unseasonable warmth isn't just affecting the Chicago area. The Mississippi River is dangerously shallow in places, and that threatens the ability for barges to pass.

Last year, most of Illinois dealt with drought conditions.

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