Is It Hot Enough for You?

It’s not your imagination.  Chicago’s weather is getting warmer and climate scientists, botanists and zoologists have collected evidence that show real-time changes in seasonal timing and weather patterns that are altering the region’s ecosystems.   Writing in the Chicago Tribune, reporter William Mullen says “This is what experts say we should expect in the future:  Shorter, warmer winters with fewer but more severe snowstorms; longer, more intense summers with fewer rainfalls and more drought, but also an increase in sporadic, intense, basement-flooding downpours; lower lake- and river-water levels; and less winter ice cover on Lake Michigan and area streams.”

Chicago Wilderness, a regional alliance dedicated to protecting nature and enriching life, has issued the “Chicago Wilderness Climate Action Plan for Nature”, a far-reaching plan designed to guide local governments, companies and conservation groups on coping with environmental change.  “We’re in for warming regardless of what we do now,” said Robert Moseley, director of conservation with the Illinois Nature Conservancy and the plan’s lead author.  As an example, the Arbor Day Foundation’s 1990 national “U.S. Hardiness Zone” map put Chicago in Zone 5, where winter temperatures can fall as low as 20 degrees below zero.  By contrast, the 2006 map placed Chicago in Zone 6, where the coldest winter temperatures register at 10 below zero.

According to Mullen, “Too much CO2 can warm the planet too much, and in the last 240 years, the fossil fuel-powered Industrial Revolution raised atmospheric levels from 280 parts per million (ppm) to more than 380 ppm, raising worldwide temperatures at an alarming rate.  As countries like China and India industrialize, the increase in CO2 levels is accelerating, and so is global warming, climate scientists warn.”

Field Museum bird expert Doug Stotz notes that “chronology mismatches” are already occurring.  “We see oaks leafing out two or three weeks earlier than they used to in the Chicago area.”  Climate change means that some native bird species will disappear while others currently common in the South will move north.  Called “invasives” and “exotics”, these birds can act as predators towards native species.  And, there are other consequences.  Kudzu, the fast-growing vine that chokes trees in the Southeastern United States, has been found in Evanston.  Armadillos, which once weren’t seen north of Texas, have been sighted in downstate Illinois.