Chicago summer already setting records as 25th anniversary of 1995 killer heat wave looms

Kelli Smith, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Weather News

CHICAGO -- Summer in the Chicago area has been warmer than normal, and residents could be in for several more weeks of sweltering weather.

Chicago usually sees high temperatures in the low to mid-80s this time of year, but July temperatures are ranging in the 90s, after June tied for the sixth warmest on record here, 5 degrees above average.

But as the 25th anniversary of Chicago's deadliest weather event on record approaches, nothing in the forecast looks as bad as 1995.

Starting July 12, 1995, more than 700 people died in Chicago over five sweltering days as temperatures soared past 100 degrees, reaching as high as 20 degrees above normal. According to the heat index, which measures how it feels when humidity and temperature are combined, the weather felt more like 126 degrees.

City leaders, including Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, downplayed the danger of the heat, with his human services commissioner saying that "We are talking about people that die because they neglected themselves." No City Council meetings were called on the issue, which disproportionately affected poor, elderly and minority populations.

"That was a major killer heat wave," said Brett Borchardt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "We're not quite to that level. But it is a little unusual to be this warm, this long, this early in the year."


In contrast, Chicago's temperatures this year have been about 5 to 10 degrees above normal recently, according to Borchardt.

The weather service's Climate Prediction Center forecast at least a 50% chance of above-average temperatures in Chicago for the next two weeks. It's expected to remain above normal through the next month, Borchardt said.

"Above average by itself may not be indicative of dangerous weather," Borchardt said. "But any time you're above average, say in the middle of summer when you're already typically hot, is when you can run into problems."

Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communications expanded cooling resources Tuesday as temperatures rose. The city has six cooling centers, as well as 50 cooling buses and various splash pads available for residents, according to a department news release.


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