Heatwave expected to linger in Chicago through the week

A heatwave stretching from the Midwest to the Northeast is expected to linger for at least five days, and meteorologists warn that Chicago is one of a dozen large metropolitan areas expected to see temperatures camp in the low to mid-90s for the week.

An air quality alert was issued for Sunday and Monday because hot weather can increase levels of pollutants in the atmosphere. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is urging Chicagoans to limit prolonged outdoor activities due to levels of ozone that are unhealthy for sensitive groups, including children and people with pulmonary or respiratory disease.

Last summer, Chicago and other parts of the country were blanketed with smoke from wildfires in Canada, experiencing several stretches of poor air quality.

On average, Chicago experiences about four days of 90-degree temperatures in June every year. The city’s longest stretch of 90-degree weather for the month of June occurred seven decades ago — in 1954 — and lasted 11 days.

The Office of Emergency Management and Communications issued a statement Sunday warning residents about extreme heat and unpredictable weather, as a brief evening thunderstorm capped off the weekend.

“That’s gonna help push a lot of south and southwest winds into our area and lift in a much warmer and more humid air into the Chicago area, and even surrounding areas in northeastern Illinois and the surrounding Great Lakes,” said Zachary Yack, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service of Chicago.

“We’ll look at high temperatures to top out in the low to mid-90s throughout much of this upcoming week. And with those humidity values, that will probably push heat indices in that 95 to 105-degree temperature range.”

Heat indices combine atmospheric temperatures and relative humidity for a realistic measure of how humans experience the weather.

Recent dry weather could blend with the hot temperatures to create a rapid-onset drought across the eastern Corn Belt and Mid-Atlantic.

Hot, dry conditions can in turn lead to high concentrations of ground-level ozone, which is created when sunlight causes a reaction between two types of pollutants: organic chemical compounds from the manufacture of products like paint, pharmaceuticals and refrigerants, and nitrogen oxides from diesel and gasoline engines. Wildfires are also a contributor.

People stick to the shade to relax at Humboldt Park on Sunday, June 16, 2024, with temperatures over 90 degrees. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)
People stick to the shade to relax at Humboldt Park on Sunday, June 16, 2024, with temperatures over 90 degrees. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

Different from the naturally occurring ozone layer that is higher up in the atmosphere, ground-level ozone can have adverse effects on human health and produce a burning feeling in the throat, airways and lungs, leading to swelling, shortness of breath, asthma attacks, coughing, chest pains and throat irritation. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, a fast heartbeat and fatigue.

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