Chicago meteorologists say they have never seen a summer with such severe weather.
Tom Skilling, chief meteorologist for WGN-TV, said the past month “is right up there at the top of the list for unusual weather” he has seen in his career — and his lifetime.
But according to Brant Miller of NBC 5 News, this may be the new normal.
So far this year, the Atlantic has seen 13 named tropical storms form, four of which hit U.S. coastlines as a Category 4 or higher, according to Weather.com, while a string of wildfires ravaged the West Coast. Further south, Mexico was hit with an earthquake that killed more than 200 people, and many islands, like Puerto Rico and Barbuda, face major destruction from tropical storms, with over a month left in hurricane season.
Skilling said watching the streaks of severe weather has been both “heart-wrenching” and “as a meteorologist, fascinating to see the way nature can put something like this together.”
Before hurricane season began, ABC7 Chicago’s Cheryl Scott said meteorologists predicted it would be an active one, and they were right. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season is on track to set records as one of the most active in history.
“Since I’ve been on the air as a meteorologist I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.
According to Scott, hurricane seasons are cyclical, so some years see more frequent and more powerful storms than others. This year, Scott said, “The ingredients are coming together for these storms to form with nothing to weaken them.”
Those ingredients, Scott said, include above average sea surface temperatures, a weak wind shear, and a weak El Nino — the cycle of warm and cold temperatures.
According to Miller, chief meteorologist for WMAQ-TV, this over-active hurricane season can be attributed to climate change.
Though he said it’s difficult to determine whether climate change is manmade or naturally occurring, Miller said there is no doubt that it is real and it “will scare you to death when you see how the planet has warmed over time.” When it comes to the streak of severe weather we’ve been seeing, he said climate change may be the culprit.
Skilling agreed, calling climate change “steroids for storms.”
Skilling said that oceans have warmed at a rate that “is equivalent to the effects of setting off a Hiroshima-size atomic bomb every second since 1990.”
Skilling said the heat that we’re currently experiencing is highly unusual, and that we broke a record on Wednesday by reaching 92 degrees. Since records started in 1871, Skilling said, only 16 percent of recorded years have seen heat higher than 90 degrees this far into September.
“One of the things that’s happening with climate change is mood swings, every storm is more severe,” Miller said. Even here, thunderstorms that were once mild have intensified.
“In my career I don’t remember a summer where every thunderstorm we had resulted in a severe thunderstorm warning,” Miller said, but this year they did.
Despite those intense storms, the weather has been mild here in the Midwest, and there is nothing severe on the horizon. Miller said this causes what may be the Midwest’s biggest consequence from major tropical storms — guilt.
“We feel guilty because as we have these weather patterns in the tropics, we don’t see much of an effect from them,” Miller said. “That’s the consequence we have here in the Midwest, that we’ve been extremely — almost guilty — lucky in the weather patterns we have.”
Although this week has temperatures in the high 80s, meteorologists agree that we shouldn’t expect anything more than mild, pleasant weather.
“Right now it feels like we’re in the dog days of summer,” Scott said. “But long-range modes show things will cool down going into the end of September and October.”
As we experience this pleasant weather, Scott said it is important for midwesterners “to do what you can to help out those affected by these storms because we are seeing really calm, nice conditions in Chicago.”
Scott said she is hopeful that regions outside the Midwest will start having better weather, with storms expected to lessen in severity and frequency.
“It does appear that things will get a bit quiet and calmer,” Scott said. “There is nothing in the near future that is showing or hinting that there will be more severe storms.”
But here in Chicago, Skilling said we’ll be taking a drastic turn from this week’s warmth, and Chicagoans should expect to be “pulling out the blankets, jackets and sweaters” as early as next weekend.