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updated: 7/3/2013 9:21 AM

Suburban weather extremes keep rewriting record books

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  • Gilbert R. Boucher II/gboucher@dailyherald.com Flood waters bubble up from a drain causing flooding along Arlington Heights Road south of Dundee Road in Buffalo Grove on Wednesday.

      Gilbert R. Boucher II/gboucher@dailyherald.com Flood waters bubble up from a drain causing flooding along Arlington Heights Road south of Dundee Road in Buffalo Grove on Wednesday.

  • George LeClaire/gleclaire@dailyherald.comA man and women try to move their car on Henley Street in Glenview at Waukegan Road Wednesday. Waukegan Road is closed both directions between Golf and Glenveiw Road.

      George LeClaire/gleclaire@dailyherald.comA man and women try to move their car on Henley Street in Glenview at Waukegan Road Wednesday. Waukegan Road is closed both directions between Golf and Glenveiw Road.

 
 

Wettest year. Longest time without an inch of snow. Heat waves and droughts.

If it seems like the weather headlines have included the words "worst" and "most" lately, it's because the suburbs have seen a lot of weather extremes these past few years.

Plenty of Chicago-area weather records have been shattered -- for everything from a lack of snow to constant rain to scorching heat. And it's likely that such wild weather swings will continue, experts say.

The first six months of this year were the wettest in recorded history, with more than 28 inches of precipitation. That's more rain than we received all of last year, according to the National Weather Service.

In the past week alone, the suburbs saw a storm dump more than 6 inches of rain in some areas in a 3-hour span. Then we had sweater-wearing coolness Tuesday, with high temperatures reaching only into the mid 60s.

The Fourth of July weather forecast looks lovely, but remember: Last year at this time we were in the grips of an oppressive, record-setting heat wave that brought three straight days of temperatures over 100 degrees, followed by droughts that left suburban lawns charred brown.

A trend is emerging, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center. Based on decades of weather tracking, the NCDC says the Midwest is experiencing more "big heat and big rain." That means temperatures have been slightly higher and rainfalls have been heavier, agency spokesman Deke Arndt said.

"More of this decade's rain is coming in big single doses, compared to, say, the middle of the 20th century," Arndt said.

Local meteorologists say this is caused by "blocking" in the upper atmosphere that can lead to extreme ups and downs in the weather.

"We get these patterns now that tend to lock in over long periods of time," said Paul Sirvatka, professor of meteorology at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.

So when it rains, it rains a lot. When there's no snow, there's no snow for a long time. When it's hot, it's hot for extended periods.

Sirvatka said weather records are broken all the time, so that's not unusual. But climatologists are now studying the underlying cause of the recent weather trends.

"(The weather we've had) is not out of the realm of what is possible. Is it memorable? Is it extreme? Yeah. We're in a pattern where these extreme ups and downs are common lately," he said. "But that week of 80 degrees last March, that was unbelievable."

Blocking patterns are not new or constant, says Eric Priest, professor of meteorology at the College of Lake County. He hedges to say anything about our weather is out of the ordinary.

"It has to happens over decades before it's a trend," said Priest, who runs the college's two weather stations in Grayslake and Vernon Hills. "So if we had weeks of 80 degrees every March, then yes."

He said people tend to think short term -- during last year's heat wave, the global warming debate moved to the forefront. He remembers a cold spell in the 1970s in Ohio that had the media talking about another Ice Age.

But historically, these patterns end. Last year's Midwest drought is now a thing of the past, he noted.

"Localized flooding from thunderstorms is not that unusual," Priest said. "During any period of rain like that, it's the luck of the draw who gets the most rain."

Rick Kuhl, deputy director of Buffalo Grove Public Works, says his town suffered some of the worst flooding he's seen in his 37 years last week. To his amazement, most of the rain that flooded streets at 6 a.m. had receded by 10:30 a.m.

"Things are just changing. Is it global warming? I don't know," said Kuhl. "We hardly ever had hail before. Now, we're getting hail all the time. Nothing's real big, but the whole grass area turns white."

While it's been a rough couple of years weather-wise, Kuhl believes the weather is cyclical and doesn't think people should worry about it.

"It's not the end of the world, believe me," he said.

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