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  • Tim McGill

Chicago's Winters Are Getting Warmer

Chicago Isn't The Only City

The increase in the average winter temperature in Chicago is just over 3° since 1970. 5 of the top 20 warmest Chicago winters on record have occurred since the year 2000. The average temperature for the winter months of December, January and February has risen 3.1° over the past 50 years. From a climate standpoint, that is huge. We aren't the only city experiencing warmer winters. A study by ClimateCentral.org of 242 cities across the country found 98% of them had an increase in their average winter temperature from 1970. The biggest jumps were around the Midwest, Great Lakes and the Northeast.

More Warm Winter Days

A warmer winter means means more days of above-average temperatures too. Chicago has seen an increase of ten extra warmer than average days over the last 50 years. 74% of the cities in the study had at least seven additional warmer than average winter days.

There will still be plenty of cold days and even record breaking cold days but the pendulum is swinging in the direction of more record warm winter days than cold ones. Record high temperatures have outpaced record low temperatures by more than a two to one ratio over the past year.

Warmer winters have some bad side effects that impact our economy. Areas that rely on winter sports like skiing or snowmobiling will be threatened by a less snow. Fruit trees like peaches and cherries will be more in jeopardy because they rely on a period of chilly winter days.

The impacts will be vast from more people drowning as a result of thinner ice to an increase in vector-borne diseases. Cranberries are already being effected by climate change as our neighbors to the north have noticed.

Here are some quotes from recent articles warning about the negative impacts of warmer winters:

More Drownings

"New research on the connection between climate change and winter drownings has found that reported drowning deaths are increasing exponentially in areas with warmer winters. Some of the sharpest increases were in areas where Indigenous customs and livelihood require extended time on ice. Across the countries studied, children under the age of 9 and teenagers and adults between 15 and 39 were the most vulnerable to winter drowning accidents."

More Dangerous Pests

"Warmer winters have also helped fuel the expansion of a pest that affects outdoor enthusiasts throughout the year: ticks. Deer ticks transmit several diseases, including Lyme, which has grown from a few hundred cases in Maine more than a decade ago to a high last year of more than 2,100. Cases of another tick-borne disease, anaplasmosis, have also surged in the state to more than 680, up from just single cases in the early 2000s."

Reduced Crops

"Warmer winters are also affecting the fruits and vegetables that California sends around the country. The state produces the majority of the country's supply of almonds, wine grapes, walnuts, pistachios and peaches. But many of those crops require a certain amount of cold weather, what's known as "chill hours." Without that, pollination can be delayed or incomplete, reducing the crop that farmers get at harvest time."

Winter "Winning" The Race

Of all the seasons, winter is warming the fastest in Illinois. Spring, summer and fall have all seen an increase in their average temperatures but winter is leading the way. Over the past fifty years it has more than tripled the warming seen in summer and nearly doubled the warming seen in spring and fall.

Will this winter be warmer than average? Check out my forecast for this upcoming winter and maybe win a prize.


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