Unusually Warm, Dry Illinois February Could Lead to a Myriad of Issues, Illinois Climatologist Says

A common sight in Chicago has people biking along the city’s iconic lakefront donning t-shirts and shorts. That’s usually something associated with spring and summer. In 2024, it occurred in February. 

This year, the State of Illinois experienced its second-warmest February since records have been kept, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. 

Besides the unusually warm temperatures, Illinois also had far less precipitation than normal last month February with .43 inches fall below the average of 1.86 inches, making it the second driest since 1895. 

The two weather issues are related according to Illinois state climatologist Trent Ford. 

“The winter warming trend has a big impact on snow in the Midwest,” Ford said. “What it means is the air is not cold enough long enough in these systems that are producing snow to consistently produce that snowfall.” 

While an El Nino weather pattern factored into the average temperature of 41 degrees in Illinois, climate change also played a role, Ford noted. 

With the climate change effects, there are now concerns about long-term ramifications and environmental damage in both the urban and rural portions in Illinois. 

With the warmer temperatures, there could be some immediate consequences for the parts of the state dependent on rich crops, such as peaches, apples and strawberries. 

If the crops develop sooner than normal, Ford explained ticked off some potential problems. 

 “There is a lot of variability with the spring freeze,” he said. “If certain types of plants are becoming more vulnerable to spring freeze 15 or 30 days earlier it puts that plant at a much larger risk of spring freeze damage.” 

Ford also notes climate change potentially leads to issues with pollinators and the growth of plants. 

 “It makes Illinois more conducive to certain types of non-native invasive species of plants and animals that come in and compete for resources for economically and environmentally important native fish and aquatic animals,” he said. “That could be a struggle for resource management.” 

As for the more heavily populated areas of the state, Ford mentioned the warmer weather could lead to an extended allergy season, creating additional public health issues. 

Ford stated to ease the effects of climate change the situation, there will have to have to be a reduction in carbon emissions or the warm February of 2024 will not be an anomaly. 

“There is still variability to give us cold winters,” Ford said. “But it makes it more likely that we are going to have more winters like this one.”