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Record-setting warmth this February in Chicago is cause for climate change concern, experts say

Record-breaking warmth in Chicago this February has climate-related downsides
Record-breaking warmth in Chicago this February has climate-related downsides 02:20

CHICAGO (CBS) -- This February has seen record-high temperatures in Chicago - during a winter where we haven't seen much snow, and the Lake Michigan hasn't seen much ice.

This week, the high on Monday was a record-setting 69 degrees, followed by a high of 74 on Tuesday, and then a crash to a high of 32 on Wednesday. It is all connected to climate change.

According to Climate Central's Climate Shift Index, climate change made the daily average temperature at least twice as likely to occur in Chicago on Monday. As for Tuesday, climate change is making the daily average temperature at least four times more likely to occur.

Climate shift patterns for Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. Climate Central
Climate shift patterns for Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. Climate Central

Climate Central reported that 86 percent of the 240 locations it analyzes are now experiencing more very warm winter days than they were in the 1970s.

Dr. Rao Kotamarthi is the science director at the Center for Climate Resilience and Decision Science at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory.

"So for the Midwest, the predictions are that the climate change will make winter short, spring longer, and both will be warmer," Kotamarthi said.

The evidence shows this already happening.

"We are breaking records year after year after year," Kotamarthi said. "That shows we are actually into climate change, and it is impacting our weather – driving it in one direction."

Kotamarthi said the rollercoaster ride of a forecast seen this week is going to become the new normal - as weather becomes more volatile and harder to predict due to climate change.

"This is a chaotic system," Kotamarthi said. "So you'll get these high temperatures, low temperatures. One winter may be cold. One winter may be warm."

For right now, Kotamarthi said, the most important concern is drought.

With no snow on the ground or ice on the lake, drought is among the larger implications. Some parts of the Midwest are already seeing it.

"We are seeing drought conditions right now, which are pretty severe in some places," Kotamarthi said.

He said that is something that could become more serious this spring and into the summer.

"The one thing that we all kind of get affected by a drought is water restrictions for watering our lawns," Kotamarthi said. "That's the most immediate thing."

Climate Central also made this list of reasons why winter warming is a cause for concern:

Another change that is expected is continued rising and falling lake levels - something already seen and tracked in Chicago, and something that experts say will continue to have a major impact moving forward.

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