Chicago Weather

Chicago-area severe weather prompts warnings from climate experts, calls to reduce water use

Climate experts say Illinois is experiencing more heat and unstable air, causing more storms for a longer period of time

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Flooding and extreme heat are posing a threat to the Midwest this week, including in Chicago, and the impacts will be felt by area residents in a wide variety of ways.

On Tuesday morning, heavy rain and strong winds rolled through Chicago and its suburbs, leaving more than 7,000 customers without power and leading to flood warnings across the region.

It comes just days after wind toppled trees and bent structures in Downers Grove and numerous other communities.

On top of all that, a recent heat wave sent temperatures soaring above 90 degrees for nearly a week straight, and all of these weather events could potentially be linked to climate change, according to experts.

"This year we’ve been ahead of the average on tornadoes, but have been extremely active on hail and wind standpoints," said Illinois' State Climatologist Trent Ford. "The likelihood of larger weather patterns that can produce tornados is likely increasing into the future for the state of Illinois."

Ford says that the peak of severe weather frequency typically comes between April and June, but studies are showing an extension into February and March.

This could be caused by a phenomenon called Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE). Climate experts at Climate Central say increased air temperatures and unstable air fuels severe thunderstorms.

"Since 1979 at least in the Chicago area we’re seeing an increase in 10-20 days that can fuel those bigger thunder storms," says Shel Winkley, a weather and climate engagement specialist at Climate Central. "Spring time temperatures are coming earlier, so that’s eating into the cooler days... we’re also starting to see the summertime heat build faster.”

He also points to a current heat dome pushing the storm systems toward Chicago and its suburbs.

The relentless rain overnight and into the morning prompted the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago to issue an Overflow Action Alert, advising residents to use less water in an effort to prevent overflowing sewers.

"That means shorter showers, hold off on washing clothes, running the dishwasher." said commissioner Kari Steele. "It can definitely be the difference between water ending up in unwanted places like your basement or not.”

So far this year the MWRD issued four Overflow Alerts. In all of 2023 they issued nine.

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