Chicago Weather: I'm Dreaming of a Wet New Year

The year 2013 dawned bright. Virtually cloudless in fact. A very pretty day, even with the temperatures topping out in the mid-20s. The skyline in clear relief, and the smokestack clouds over the south end of the lake making it obvious that New Year’s Day is no holiday at the Indiana steel mills.

Chicago skyline and lake Jan 1 2013

A nice day. But maybe too nice? Not that I was necessarily hoping it would rain or snow on Jan. 1, especially with so many holiday travelers on the local roads. But here’s hoping that the next 364 days are a lot wetter than the last 366.

The year just passed was an unusual boon for folks in the Chicago area who hate snow shoveling and wearing big coats and carrying umbrellas, and 2012 — my first full year as a Chicago resident — certainly defied all those warnings I got from friends in my old hometown of Washington, D.C., that the weather extremes in Chicago would in short order drive me mad.

Yet there was a serious downside to all of that fair weather. The first signs of trouble came early, when a freak heat wave, which sent temperatures soaring well into the 80s in mid-March, was followed by a late freeze that decimated the region’s fruit crops, literally nipping them in the bud.

Then came a drought that plagued farmers in the region and much of the Midwest. The lack of precipitation — 26.49 inches at Midway Airport, or a full one-third less than the 39.09-inch historic average — also drove the region’s lakes and rivers to record-low depths.

This is something that we, with our 30th floor view of Lake Michigan and Belmont Harbor, have witnessed every day. Look closely at this photo, and you’ll see the edge of the harbor looks brown. That’s the lake bottom, clearly visible.

Belmont Harbor Chicago Jan 1 2013

This view of the harbor’s seawall also shows how far the water is below its usual level.

Belmont Harbor in Chicago Jan 1 2013

No one can say for sure what it has been so dry. I happen to believe that global climate change is real and that our best course is intensive scientific research and bold technological innovation, and not burying our heads in the sand and pretending that it’s nothing but a hoax. Others will argue, though, that it’s at the least too early to pin this on global warming, pointing to similar cyclical weather patterns in the past.

Whatever the reason, let’s hope this isn’t the new normal. I’d rather get wet.

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