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State Climate Summaries

ILLINOIS

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ILLINOIS

 

Figure 1

Observed and Projected Temperature Change

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Observed and projected changes (compared to the 1901–1960 average) in near-surface air temperature for Illinois. Observed data are for 1900–2014. Projected changes for 2006–2100 are from global climate models for two possible futures: one in which greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase (higher emissions) and another in which greenhouse gas emissions increase at a slower rate (lower emissions). Temperatures in Illinois (orange line) have risen about 1°F since the beginning of the 20th century. Shading indicates the range of annual temperatures from the set of models. Observed temperatures are generally within the envelope of model simulations of the historical period (gray shading). Historically unprecedented warming is projected during the 21st century,. Less warming is expected under a lower emissions future (the coldest years being about as warm as the hottest year in the historical record; green shading) and more warming under a higher emissions future (the hottest years being about 10°F warmer than the hottest year in the historical record; red shading). Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

Illinois’s location in the interior of the North American continent exposes it to a climate with large ranges in temperature with warm, humid summers and cold winters. The lack of mountains to the north or south allows very cold air masses from the Arctic in the winter and warm, humid air masses from the Gulf of Mexico in the summer to move into the state, further increasing the range of conditions that affect Illinois. Temperature varies widely across the state, with a range of about 10°F from north to south. In northeastern Illinois, Lake Michigan moderates the temperature, causing cooler summers and warmer winters. Topography and urban areas also have local impacts on climate.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, temperatures in Illinois have risen approximately 1°F (Figure 1). Temperatures in the 2000s have been higher than any other historical period, with the exception of the early 1930s “Dust Bowl” era. Warming has been concentrated in winter and spring while summers have not warmed substantially in the state, a feature characteristic of much of the Midwest (Figure 2). The lack of summer warming is reflected in a below average occurrence of very hot days (days with maximum temperature above 95°F) since the mid 1950s (Figure 3a) and no overall trend in very warm nights (minimum temperature above 75°F) since the beginning of the 20th century (Figure 3b). The winter warming trend is reflected in a below average number of very cold nights (minimum temperature below 0°F) over the past 25 years (Figure 3c).

Figure 2

Figure 2a

 

Observed Spring Temperature

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Figure 2b

 

Observed Summer Temperature

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Figure 2: The observed spring and summer temperatures across Illinois for 1895–2014, averaged over 5-year periods; these values are from NCEI's version 2 climate division dataset. The dark horizontal lines represent the long-term average. Over the past three decades, Illinois has experienced the highest springtime temperatures in the historical record. Summer temperatures during the most recent 5-year period (2010–2014) have reached the highest level since the extreme heat of the 1930s Dust Bowl era. The dark horizontal line on each graph is the long-term average (1895–2014) of 51.3°F (spring) and 73.5°F (summer). Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

Figure 3

Figure 3a

 

Observed Number of Very Hot Days

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Figure 3b

 

Observed Number of Very Warm Nights

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Figure 3c

 

Observed Number of Very Cold Nights

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Figure 3d

 

Observed Annual Precipitation

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Figure 3: The observed (a) number of very hot days (maximum temperature above 95°F), (b) number of very warm nights (minimum temperature above 75°F), (c) number of very cold nights (minimum temperature below 0°F), and (d) total annual precipitation, averaged over 5-year periods; the dark horizontal lines represent the long-term average. The values in Figures 3 a, b, and c are averages from 36 long-term reporting stations. The values in Figure 3d are from NCEI's version 2 climate division dataset. Since 1990, Illinois has experienced a below average number of very hot days and no trend in very warm nights. However, the state has experienced a below average number of very cold nights since 1990, indicative of winter warming. Annual precipitation varies widely, but has been above average since 1990. Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

Statewide annual precipitation has ranged from a low of 25.52 inches in 1901 to a high of 51.18 inches in 1993. The driest multi-year periods occurred in the majority of years in the first half of the 1900s, and the wettest periods have been observed since the 1990s and into the 2000s. (Figure 3d). The driest 5-year period was 1952–1956 and the wettest was 2007–2011. However, annual precipitation varies widely across the state, ranging from more than 48 inches in the south to less than 32 inches in the north. For snowfall, the pattern is reversed, with the northeastern part of the state averaging 40 inches of snowfall annually, compared to only 10 inches in the southernmost section. In the Chicago Metropolitan area, the proximity to Lake Michigan occasionally results in heavy winter precipitation from lake-effect snows.

Agriculture is an important component of the state’s economy, and the agricultural sector is particularly vulnerable to extreme precipitation conditions. On average, Illinois has experienced above average precipitation in spring and summer over the past two decades (Figure 4). While precipitation during these critical growth months is important for adequate soil moisture, it is also vital for proper planting and root development. Poor root development in important state crops, such as corn and soybeans, can lead to reduced plant absorption of nutrients and water from the soil, increased soil erosion, and loss of nutrients from the fields into the rivers and streams. Both flooding and droughts have resulted in billions of dollars in losses in recent years. In 2012, a large drought across the Midwest had severe impacts on Illinois. Rainfall totals for May, June, and July were several inches below average and ranked as the third driest period (after 1936 and 1988) in 120 years of record. By early August, much of the state was in extreme drought. The drought caused major damage to crops, particularly in the southern third of the state.

Figure 4

Figure 4a

 

Observed Spring Precipitation

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Figure 4b

 

Observed Summer Precipitation

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Figure 4: The observed spring and summer precipitation across Illinois for 1895–2014, averaged over 5-year periods; these values are from NCEI's version 2 climate division dataset. Seasonal precipitation varies widely. Since 1995, Illinois has experienced above average precipitation during both the spring and summer months. The dark horizontal line on each graph is the long-term average (1895–2014) of 10.97 inches (spring) and 11.28 inches (summer). Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

llinois has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of extreme precipitation events (more than 2 inches of precipitation), which can cause severe flooding in the state (Figure 5). In the summer of 1993, persistent heavy rainfall over the upper Midwest caused severe flooding along the Mississippi River. The 1993 flood was one of the greatest natural disasters in U.S. history, causing billions of dollars in damage to homes, businesses, agriculture, and infrastructure. Recently, from April 16 to 19, 2013, heavy rainfall from a slow-moving storm system caused severe flooding across parts of northern and central Illinois, with some areas receiving up to 10 inches of rain. This event, along with the wettest January–June on record in the state, caused planting to be delayed and resulted in diminished revenue for many farmers. In addition, Illinois has struggled with urban flooding caused by heavy rains falling on impervious surfaces (e.g., roads, sidewalks, and driveways) with inadequate infrastructure. A recent report found that more than 90% of urban flooding damage claims from 2007 to 2014 were outside the mapped floodplain.

 

Observed Number of Extreme Precipitation Events

Observed Number of Extreme Precipitation Events

Figure 5: Figure 5: The observed number of days with extreme precipitation events (annual number of days with precipitation greater than 2 inches) for 1900–2014, averaged over 5-year periods; these values are averages from 43 available long-term reporting stations. A typical station experiences 1–2 such events each year. The number of extreme precipitation events has been above average since the 1990s. During the most recent 5-year period (2010–2014), Illinois experienced a record high number of events when stations averaged more than 2 events annually. The dark horizontal line is the long-term average (1900–2014) of 1.62 days per year. Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

Illinois experiences storms during all seasons. From February 1 to 3, 2011, Illinois was hit by one of the most powerful winter storms in history. The greatest snow accumulation associated with the storm was in Antioch where 27 inches of snow was measured; this area averages only one snowfall greater than 6 inches annually. Chicago O’Hare International Airport recorded wind gusts of more than 60 mph and 20.2 inches of snow, the third largest snowfall accumulation reported for the city in 120 years of record. More than 9.8 million Illinois residents were in areas with 12 or more inches of snow. Severe thunderstorms occur frequently during late spring and early summer. These storms can occasionally cause tornadoes, which sometimes result in major damage and loss of life.

Water levels in the Great Lakes have fluctuated over a range of three to six feet since the late 19th century (Figure 6). Higher lake levels were generally noted in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century, the 1940s and 1950s, and the 1980s. Lower lake levels were observed in the 1920s and 1930s and again in the 1960s. For Lake Michigan-Huron, the first decade of the 21st century has also seen lower levels. Overall, Lake Michigan-Huron has shown a statistically significant downward trend over the past 150 years. The trend is largely due to the high levels early in the period and the extremely low levels in the past 10 years.

 

Annual Lake-Wide Average Water Levels for Lake Michigan-Huron

Annual Lake-Wide Average Water Levels for Lake Michigan-Huron

Figure 6: Long-term annual time series of the average water levels for Lake Michigan-Huron. Water levels in the Great Lakes have fluctuated widely over the years. Lake Michigan-Huron has shown a statistically significant downward trend over the past 150 years. The trend is largely due to the high levels early in the period and extremely low levels during the 21st century. Source: NOAA NOS and Canadian Hydrographic Service.

Figure 7

Hours of Heat Index over Threshold Values (June to September)

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The number of hours with heat index values over selected thresholds of 100°F, 105°F and 110°F for Chicago Midway International Airport from 1931 to 2012. The number of hours above the three thresholds reached their highest values on record during the 1995 heat wave (22, 42, and 69 hours, respectively). Source: NOAA MRCC.

Under a higher emissions pathway, historically unprecedented warming is projected by the end of the 21st century (Figure 1). Even under a pathway of lower greenhouse gas emissions, average annual temperatures are projected to most likely exceed historical record levels by the middle of the 21st century. However, there is a large range of temperature increases under both pathways, and under the lower pathway, a few projections are only slightly warmer than historical records (Figure 1). From July 12 to 16, 1995, Chicago experienced a severe heat wave— the worst weather-related disaster in the city’s history. Over a five-day period, more than 700 people died in Chicago. In addition to daytime highs of greater than 90°F (including two days greater than 100°F), nighttime temperatures only dropped into the 80s. Furthermore, the heat index, which considers both temperature and humidity, reached values of 105°F or more for 42 hours during the event. Values of 105°F are considered dangerous by the National Weather Service. An analysis of hourly data in Chicago from the 1930s onward (Figure 7) shows that conditions were the most severe on record in terms of the number of hours above critical thresholds of the heat index. Future heat waves are likely to be more intense if temperature increases continue, coupled with periods of high humidity. This will pose risks to human health, particularly in the Chicago and St. Louis metro areas. Cold wave intensity is projected to decrease.

Precipitation is projected to increase in Illinois, with increases most likely during the winter and spring (Figure 8). Extreme precipitation is also projected to increase, potentially increasing the frequency and intensity of floods. Springtime flooding in particular could pose a threat to Illinois’s important agricultural economy by delaying planting and resulting in loss of yield.

The intensity of future droughts is projected to increase.Even if precipitation increases in the future, increases in temperature will increase evaporation rates and the rate of loss of soil moisture. Thus, future summer droughts, a natural part of the Illinois climate, are likely to be more intense.

 

Projected Change in Spring Precipitation

Projected Change in Spring Precipitation

Figure 8: Projected change in spring precipitation (%) for the middle of the 21st century compared to the late 20th century under a higher emissions pathway. Hatching represents areas where the majority of climate models indicate a statistically significant change. Spring precipitation in Illinois is projected to increase in the range of 10–20% by 2050. These increases are part of a large area of projected increases across the northern United States. Source: CICS-NC, NOAA NCEI, and NEMAC.

Lead Authors:
Rebekah Frankson, Kenneth E. Kunkel
Contributing Authors:
Sarah Champion, Brooke C. Stewart, David Easterling, Beth Hall, and James R. Angel
Recommended Citation:
Frankson, R., K. Kunkel, S. Champion, B. Stewart, D. Easterling, B. Hall, and J. R. Angel, 2017: Illinois State Summary. NOAA Technical Report NESDIS 149-IL, 4 pp.

Resources

  1. Kunkel, K.E, L.E. Stevens, S.E. Stevens, L. Sun, E. Janssen, D. Wuebbles, S.D. Hilberg, M.S. Timlin, L. Stoecker, N.E. Westcott, and J.G. Dobson, 2013: Regional Climate Trends and Scenarios for the U.S. National Climate Assessment. Part 3. Climate of the Midwest U.S., NOAA Technical Report NESDIS 142-3, 95 pp. [Available online at https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/content/technical-reports]
  2. Larson, L.W., 1996: The great USA flood of 1993, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service. [Available online at http://www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/floods/papers/oh_2/great.htm]
  3. NOAA, 1995: Natural Disaster Survey Report July 1995 Heat Wave, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at http://www.nws.noaa.gov/os/assessments/pdfs/heat95.pdf]
  4. NOAA, cited 2016: Climate at a Glance: U.S. Time Series, published December 2016, retrieved on December 19, 2016, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information. [Available online at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/]
  5. NOAA, cited 2016: Climate of Illinois National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/climatenormals/clim60/states/Clim_IL_01.pdf]
  6. NOAA, cited 2016: Great Lakes dashboard, data download, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/dashboard/data/index.html]
  7. NOAA, cited 2016: State of the Climate: Global Hazards for February 2011, published online March 2011, retrieved on December 19, 2016, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information. [Available online at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/hazards/201102.http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/hazards/201102#winter]
  8. NWS, cited 2016: Chicago, IL: February 1-2, 2011 blizzard summary, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office. [Available online at http://www.crh.noaa.gov/news/display_cmsstory.php?wfo=lot&storyid=63527&source=0]
  9. NWS, cited 2016: Flooding in Illinois, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service. [Available online at http://www.floodsafety.noaa.gov/states/il-flood.shtml]
  10. O’Neill, B. T., M.E. Woloszyn, and J.R. Angel, 2013: Chicago Heat Waves: A Climatological Comparison, 20th Conference on Applied Climatology, American Meteorological Society, Austin, TX. [Available online at https://ams.confex.com/ams/93Annual/webprogram/Paper221616.html]
  11. State Climate Office for Illinois, 2011: Over 10 Million in Illinois Impacted by Storm, accessed February 5 2016. [Available online at https://climateillinois.wordpress.com/2011/02/11/over-10-million-in-illinois-impacted-by-storm/]
  12. U.S. Drought Monitor Map Archive, cited 2016: U.S. drought monitor Conus. [Available online at http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/MapsAndData/MapArchive.aspx]
  13. Winters, B., J. Angel, C. Ballerine, J. Byard, A. Flegel, D. Gambill, E. Jenkins, S. McConkey, M. Markus, B.A. Bender, and M.J. O’Toole, 2015: Report on Illinois Urban Flooding Awareness Act. Office of Water Resources, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, 97pp. [Available online at https://www.dnr.illinois.gov/WaterResources/Documents/Final_UFAA_Report.pdf]
 
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