Illinois 2050 Forecast

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all of our friends in Illinois.  I was born in the Chicago area, I’ve got some really interesting news in this forecast for Chicago, and there’s a lot of opportunity in the rest of the state as well.  Illinois has a lot of very interesting potential as we look towards 2050.

Everyone in Illinois already knows that our climate is nasty.  If you enjoy being stuck to your chair when you sit down outside in both the summer and the winter, albeit for different reasons, Illinois is the place for you.  This actually puts us in a good position as we deal with the coming changes to the climate, because we’re already used to dealing with extreme changes in temperature.  Our buildings are designed for both heating and cooling- not true nationwide- and we are already used to dealing with serious storms, including tornados and straight-line winds.  We also have pretty regular flooding, and its associated community-level impacts on major infrastructure.  So the question for Illinois isn’t, are things going to get bad, it’s, how bad are things going to get, are they going to overwhelm the existing infrastructure.  Let’s check it out, starting with our winter lows.

We’ll look at HARDI first- pretty big changes.  We were in zones 5, 6, and 7, and we do preserve all of those zones in the state, but they’ll be moving a fair bit.  The zone 7 expansion will come right up to about Effingham.  We have conservation of zone 6 in this fairly populated band of the state including Springfield, Bloomington-Normal, and Champaign-Urbana.  And we’re moving from zone 5 to zone 6 in much of northern Illinois.  Plenty of people will be glad of that, glad of some slightly milder winters, and I want to make sure you check this out.  In Chicago, that heat island from the city is getting so extreme, we’re talking about zone 7 winters.  Still cold, but those contemporary cold winters, for many people they are their biggest complaint about Chicago. 

Let’s put this information together with a look at the summer heat.  HEAT.  Now, looking at the contemporary map, it should remind us that Illinois is a gigantically long state with a huge temperature cline.  Up in the north we traditionally have had fairly cool summers, although it’s humid so I can assure you we complain about them tremendously, and towards the southern end of the state it feels quite southern.  Very warm, very humid summers in the southern third of Illinois. 

Looking into the future, you can see that there is a tremendous heatup projected, giving all of us more reasons to complain.  Those colors indicate up to 90, 120, and 150 days over 86 degrees.  So we’re looking at a much hotter summer across the state, with some of your biggest changes at the northern and southern edges. 

This is looking like pretty decent news, honestly, if you live in that middle third of the state- including Bloomington-Normal, Champagne-Urbana, and Springfield.  No change in plant hardiness zone, means your trees and mature plants will not experience as much stress as they will north and south of your relatively conserved, central location.  The summers will be longer, but you have a good water outlook, nice mid-sized cities in that band with pretty healthy infrastructure.  I’d be optimistic about your local outlook.  Compared to so many places, this is a pretty tolerable level of change.

Let’s get some more information about the heat, because that heat map, it only tells us how many days over 86.  But when we think of a day over 86 degrees, that can be pretty much fine, 88, that’s a beautiful summer day, or it can be like 114, birds lighting on fire, apocalyptic.  We’re lucky, in Illinois Chicago has helped fund some work that gives us a good window into the details of that projected heatup.  907.

You can see here that there’s a HUGE difference between the RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5 scenarios!  I made a video about why I’m betting on RCP 4.5, you can check it out, but I don’t think anyone who lives in Chicago could look at this graph and not want to invest in our RCP 4.5 future.  You can see very dramatically how we can start to kinda level off the changes after 2050 if we make the moderate emissions reductions required for RCP 4.5- and there are so many ways RCP 4.5 is the pathway we are already on.  And that under this pathway, Chicago will go from having on average maybe a couple days over 100 a year to maybe 5 by 2050, staying under 10 by end of century.  These error bars, these show the expected range, you know some years you have bigger heat waves than others.  And you can see how much tighter that range is under RCP 4.5, much more tolerable, and much easier to plan for. 

So, while you’re talking a lot of days over 86, you’re looking at heat that mostly stays under 100 up in the northern half of the state.  Tolerable.  It’ll feel Midwestern still, at midcentury.  And while we will have increased energy needs for summer cooling, we’ll also have some decrease in energy needs for winter heating.  Most systems, heating takes more energy than cooling, so we’re talking about a less extreme projected strain on our energy grid than in some parts of the country.  There is a lot of work currently being done to improve the energy infrastructure in the state, which, it may be becoming clear to you that Illinois is going to be a destination state, so the infrastructure does need an upgrade, this is a state that is definitely preparing to serve a larger population.

We’ll talk more about that, but I do want to address the heat a little more.  We need to talk about the heat wave projections.  On a regional level, the projected heat waves are one of the biggest threats to the Midwest.  The federal government is projecting that by 2050, the once-a-decade type heatwaves, disaster heatwaves, will be 13 degrees over current highs and last for 5 days.  So let’s find out what that means for Illinois.  We have our typical average highs in the 80s.  Giving it a generous margin, I would expect our midcentury heat waves might get up around 105, a few degrees lower in the north, maybe another degree or two higher in the south.  That’s pretty serious, if that hit with the humidity high, those could be life-threatening temperatures.  But it’s close, it’s just barely over the threshold where you might expect the heat to be genuinely life-threatening rather than merely extremely unpleasant.  I think southern Illinois should join Iowa and Missouri as we prepare for the possibility of life-threatening heatwaves in 2050. 

Preparedness is the key for these heat waves.  We need to keep the power infrastructure up to date, we need to make sure people have access to community spaces to keep cool if they need them- and as we build a resilient America, there’s nothing more important for your own resilience than community, that’s for sure- and in Illinois, you’re in an area where many homes have solid, deep basements.  In a true heat emergency, a cooler underground space could buy you the time you need to make it into the evening, get to a safer situation for the next day. 

I want to point out that the threat of serious heat emergencies is not only more serious for southern Illinois in terms of the raw temperature, but agricultural communities, they have higher rates of hospitalizations in today’s heat emergency situations.  That community resilience, all of us in agricultural areas know how critical that is in any emergency.  Always worth checking in on the older people when it gets hot out, you could safe your neighbor’s life.

Other than the heat, Illinois, you don’t have all that much too worry about.  Weather’s going to keep getting worse, but particularly up in the northern part of the state, the infrastructure investment has been substantial and there’s still a lot of work being done to get ready for the stormwater and flooding issues we all know are coming.  It’s not like there’s no threat, but we are dealing with them, there’s a high level of awareness and response at the local level.  I’m gonna show you this link, it’s the city of Chicago’s climate action plan.  There are less than a hundred cities worldwide who have been engaged with these climate action plans for more than a decade.  Chicago has been getting ready. 

Chicago Climate Action Plan

You can read over that, see exactly what’s been going on.  It’s been a lot of work over the past 15 years.  You might have read some stories in the New York Times about how the lake is going to eat Chicago.  I’m here to tell you that that is hilarious.  Chicago does often deal with more water than it would like, but to compare the issues we may have to the lake to the impact sea level rise is going to have on New York City- check out my video on coastal New York if you want to learn more about that, they are going to face some really painful impacts.  Here, let’s take a look at the lake.  XXX  The trends for the lake are not indicating any big changes in summer temp or ice duration around Chicago, and there is not a lot of scientific consensus regarding changes in the lake level.  The last few years the lake has been high, it’s been damaging beaches that are totally artificial anyway.  The lake is definitely after that one brown house you always see getting splashed in the Tribune, but there’s not a lot of evidence it’s after Chicago in general.  This is not a problem on the scale of sea level rise.  Should not be high on your list of concerns for the region.

Which, let’s put this in perspective.  The more you think about Chicago’s major urban competitors- and here, I’m talking about both the East and West coasts- the more you can understand why Chicago is spending so much money on climate preparedness.  LA and NYC are both looking at rough rides, with new, life-threatening disasters.  Threats you have never experienced before are more dangerous, because you don’t know what to do.  Chicago is not looking at new threats, just more of the same.  And it’s a world-class city with excellent cultural opportunities, many strong industries, and absolutely no lack of fresh water.  I think you can read the writing on that wall. 

Let’s wrap this up.  Illinois is going to get hotter, and alongside that, the plant communities will have higher water needs.  But, the water outlook is good, we’re not talking about anything approaching water scarcity. On the southern end of the state, south of Effingham, you’re talking about the potential for life threatening heatwaves.  North of there, it’ll probably be more extreme discomfort than life-threatening. 

The changes don’t look severe enough to cause mass tree death north of Effingham.  You might see some wildfires south of there, but the wildfire outlook even there is not as rough as it looks in Missouri or Arkansas, which do have pretty severe potential for wildfires by 2050. 

Is the outlook for Illinois delightful?  No, but everything is relative.  Chicago has the single best climate outlook for a major city in the US.  At this point, the only thing that can get in Chicago’s way is Chicago, but, those of us who are generationally familiar with the city, we know that could be a challenge. 

In all seriousness, though, this is some real good news right here.  Illinois skirts many dangers, and it possesses many serious strengths.  Real good bet.  If you love agricultural communities, you should go a bit further north for the Midwestern territory with a really prime outlook.  The heat in Illinois will cause some production losses, both with crops and livestock.  You’ll have better outcomes for those in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and to a lesser extent, Michigan.  But if you want a more urban lifestyle, central to northern Illinois is a great bet.

There are 13.1 million people in the US who are likely to be directly displaced by sea level rise by the end of the century.  We could use more people in the Midwest.  Illinois and Iowa are both actively preparing to welcome people.  Indiana appears to be as well from their infrastructure investment, although they don’t say so much out loud.  There are a lot of cool places in the Midwest.  But if you’re thinking to move and you want a world city, Illinois is your obvious choice.

This is Dr. Schoerning with AR, signing out.  Please like and subscribe, help get the message out there.  There is hope.  We can prepare for what’s coming.  Let’s get ready.