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How Extreme Will Chicago’s Weather Get?

Expert predictions for deep winter and beyond.

Photo: Keri Wiginton/Chicago Tribune

By now, everyone knows that global warming is causing more severe weather events all year long. Hotter summers. Stronger winds. Scarier storms. But the record number of tornadoes that whipped through Illinois in November—November!—still seemed to catch many Chicagoans by surprise. Is this really the new normal?

Most likely, according to the climate experts I spoke to. “[As temperatures heat up], Chicago could look more like Carbondale: longer summer, shorter winter, a lot more rain, and a lot less snow,” says Jim Angel, the state climatologist. Here’s what he and other experts are predicting Chicago will see for the next 30 years.

Winter: Less snow but more snowpocalypses. “The trend is for more precipitation in general,” says Samuel Dorevitch, who heads the program Building Resilience Against Climate Effects in Illinois. “Snow—and rain—is expected in much more extreme events.” There’s good news, though: The winters will be shorter!

Spring: “Warmer and wetter,” according to Dorevitch, “and the rain will come in large events”—such as the punishing downpours that caused all those sinkholes last year, a big problem for a city with 900 miles of century-old water mains.

Summer: Dangerous heat waves. “The 1995 Chicago heat wave that killed 700 people? Expect events like that more frequently,” Dorevitch says.

Fall: A longer growing season before the temperature dips—“good news for farmers,” Dorevitch says—but with that, an alarming increase in pollen release, which could cause an asthma epidemic in the city.

As for those tornadoes, they’ll be much less predictable. “[On New Year’s Eve] in 2010, you had tornadoes in Illinois. In 2012, you had a tornado outbreak in February,” Angel says. “As things warm up, we may not get more tornadoes, but we will have a longer tornado season.” Paging Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt.

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