For a while, it felt as though summer had been cancelled in Chicago. Remember that snow in spring? However, beginning on Thursday the temperatures will soar to the high 90s, the humidity will be thick, and thunderstorms will bring heavy rain and pea-sized hail.
The worst of the heat is expected on Friday, but Thursday temperatures build to the mid-90s. The miserably high temperatures triggered an excessive heat warning, which is in effect until Saturday night.
Thunderstorms with heavy rain delayed the oppressive heat on Thursday, and there is more rain predicted on Friday night and Saturday. Even with the rain, and hail, Thursday’s high is still expected to be 97 degrees.
The heat index, which is an estimation of what the temperatures will actually feel like, could hit 104 to 114 each afternoon. A heat warning is issued when the heat index reaches certain dangerous levels—protocols were set after the deadly July 1995 heat wave that killed more than 700 people in Chicago, according to the Tribune.
Saturday’s high of 98 degrees doesn’t come close to breaking any top records—the highest temperature recorded in Chicago was 105 degrees on July 24, 1934, according to the weather service. The unrelenting heat is expected to end on Sunday when a shift in the wind will bring the high temperature to around 85 degrees then.
How the city prepares for extreme heat
“It’s all hand on deck,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a press conference Thursday morning as the city activated its extreme weather plan.
This will be the hottest weather we’ve seen all year, and the city is on high alert. On Wednesday officials from public safety, health, utilities, and human service departments plus the weather service first gathered to discuss a plan for the safety of Chicago residents.
The Chicago Transit Authority doesn’t expect there to be any issues with L trains and buses (which are all air conditioned). However, Metra says it’ll need to reduce train speeds to 10 mph during the excessive heat. The extra caution is taken due to possible “sun kinks” that warp the tracks, and in the worst case cause the train to derail.
Sun kinks occur when the rail expands beyond the holding force of the track structure and becomes warped.— Metra (@Metra) July 17, 2019
Take a look at what can happen when a train encounters a sun kink, compliments of Australian Railways Driver Bernie Baker, shared with permission: https://t.co/GexuyAAK1y
ComEd proactively implemented its storm protocol, which means an emergency operating center is open and crews are in position to address critical outages.
“When you think about all the investments put into the grid since 2011—we’ve hardened it and strengthened it. Even in the polar vortex we faced earlier this year, the system operated quite well and we expect that to happen again,” said Melissa Washington from ComEd at the presser.
The Department of Family Support Services has extended hours at the six cooling centers across the city. Libraries, police stations, and senior centers will be open for those seeking shelter from the dangerously high temperatures. The Park District will continue with summer day camps and have 36 park fieldhouses open as cooling centers.
There are a handful of major outdoor events happening this weekend—Pitchfork, Disability Pride Parade, Silver Room Block Party, Chinatown’s Summer Fair, and the Rock n’ Roll Marathon—and the city encouraged residents to be prepared for the hot weather.
“Extreme heat and humidity is more than an inconvenience, they are dangerous and in some cases can be deadly,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago Department of Health.
Heat exhaustion usually presents with heavy sweating, feeling weak, muscle cramps, and nausea—take those symptoms seriously and get to a cool space, she said. It’s possible that heat exhaustion could develop into heat stroke, which means the body cannot regulate its temperature, and 911 must be called.
To prevent heat-related illnesses its important to stay hydrated with water and keep cool by staying in AC or taking a cold shower, Arwady said.
The city advises residents without air conditioning to keep the shades closed with windows slightly open. It’s good to touch base with relatives, neighbors, and friends—or call 311 to request a wellbeing check. Also, drink plenty of water and learn the signs of heat exhaustion.