Future Illinois climate – managing the change

By Duane Friend

In previous articles, I’ve discussed how the greenhouse effect works, how it has been enhanced and how climate models are used to predict future climate. This article will focus on what Illinois’ climate is projected to be in the next few decades. The short answer is warmer and wetter. However, it won’t be evenly spread out.

Illinois will continue to warm. For the next couple of decades, a lot of that warming will be seen in warmer winters. Later in the century, there is expected to be greater changes in summer, with more heat waves expected. By 2100, it’s expected that the number of heat waves can increase by 4-5 per year. Our growing season will get extended, but there could still be instances of late spring or early fall frosts.

Winter will likely see an increase in precipitation. With warmer winters, more of this will fall as rain. Spring and fall will also likely have small increases in precipitation, but our summers might well have less rainfall. Some of that precipitation may come in the form of more extreme precipitation events- what we like to call gully washers, toad stranglers, or bucket busters. In between, there may be stretches of very dry weather.

So, you can see there are some good and not so good changes. If you like less harsh winters, you’ll like winters of the future. Longer growing seasons on average will allow planting more diverse plants.

On the other side, managing heavy precipitation events will become more important. Soil erosion may increase, along with storm water peak flow from city streets. Peak electricity usage during heat events may strain the power grid. Certain invasive plants and critters may come into the area, while some trees and other plants that like colder climates may see decline.

The thing is, change will happen, and we need to manage the change as best we can. The change can be lessened by doing things you’ve heard many times before- basically burn less fossil fuels. We also need to be realistic in what can be accomplished. There’s a lot of low hanging fruit out there that can be done easily, things that won’t disrupt everyday living. Energy conservation is one of the single easiest things that can reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Switching out incandescent for LED’s, making sure your house is well insulated, changing air filters on the furnace/cooling system regularly, and not wasting water all helps a great deal will lower your energy costs too.

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