Global warming threatens Chicago tourism

Written By contributors Posted: 07/17/2014, 05:30pm

Chicagoans love to be outside. Millions of tourists and residents enjoy the wide variety of activities that Chicago offers — our museums, music, sports, food and, of course, our waterways. These industries are of great importance to the economy. 

As president of a tour boat company that offers Chicago Architecture Foundation tours and events on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, recent experience has me concerned that a fluctuating economy is not the only danger to my business. Climate change has brought Chicago unpredictable and increasingly extreme weather. The erratic behavior of Mother Nature has literally caused boatloads of people to miss out on celebrating a memorable occasion with family and friends on Chicago’s waterways. Extreme rain produced the wettest June in 86 years and was followed by a wet, cool July. Extreme hot temperatures put our guests and employees at risk for heat exhaustion. Unexpectedly cold temperatures, like snow in April and 60 degrees in July, leave out of town guests unprepared to spend much time outdoors exploring Chicago.

Moreover, an unusually long winter like the one endured in 2014 showed that more severe storms and weather in the winter also hurt business bottom lines. The long, extreme cold further into the spring causes a drop in sales for group tour business and private events in the early part of the season as people are not yet ready to commit to outdoors activities. A colder Lake Michigan has resulted in fog blocking visibility for sightseeing.

Severe rainstorms also have the power to frustrate business. As the river rises because of rainfall, it becomes challenging for tour boats to fit underneath Chicago’s many bridges. This in turn means the Chicago Harbor Lock may have to open the gates that separate the Chicago River from Lake Michigan to restore the river to safe levels and protect residents from basement flooding. In the past 25 years all Chicago River lock gates were opened six times for flood control purposes. The worrisome part of that statistic is that four of these six times have occurred since 2008 with the latest just occurring on July 1. A harsh storm on Saturday, July 12 caused high river levels and flooding which prompted both Taste of Chicago to close for the entire day and our tours were forced to cancel and be ultimately rerouted for the day resulting in lost revenue and unhappy visitors.

Our elected officials recognize that climate change is not just a prediction that our grandchildren will have to figure out. It is happening now and affecting us today.


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