Illinois heat wave is the latest of several weather extremes in the state
Chicagoans look to beat the heat at the Crown Fountain in downtown Millennium Park Thursday afternoon. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Andrew Adams)
Dangerously high heat follows drought conditions earlier this summer
By ANDREW ADAMS
Capitol News Illinois
Illinois is roasting in triple digit temperatures this week, forcing the state and schools to cancel some outdoor activities and modify class schedules.
Every county in Illinois was under an excessive heat warning Thursday morning, with some areas expected to continue to be under advisory until at least Friday evening.
The heat index, a measure that combines air temperature with humidity, reached higher than 128 degrees in Galesburg Wednesday. Chicago’s O’Hare airport recorded an air temperature of 98 degrees, the highest temperature for Aug. 23 since 1947, according to the National Weather Service. The heat index there peaked at 116, just two degrees shy of the record high that came during Chicago’s infamous 1995 heat wave.
“Exposure to extreme heat can cause serious health complications, including heat exhaustion and heatstroke,” IDPH Director Sameer Vohra said in a Tuesday news release. “With dangerously high temperatures and humidity in the forecast, I urge everyone to take precautions and protect themselves and their families from overheating and heat related illnesses.”
Vohra added that very young children, pregnant people, older adults and those with chronic health conditions should be particularly wary.
IDPH issued several guidelines to protect against heatstroke and heat exhaustion, including seeking air-conditioned areas like shopping malls or libraries during the day, wearing lightweight and light-colored fabrics and reducing strenuous and outdoor activities, particularly between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
People experiencing body temperatures above 103 degrees, difficulty breathing, elevated heart rate, skin that is hot to the touch, dizziness, nausea or disorientation should call 911 immediately, IDPH advised.
The state’s emergency management agency also updated its website to point to a list of “cooling centers” around the state compiled by an interagency group, although as of Thursday afternoon the webpage does not list any cooling centers south of Urbana.
The state also canceled several upcoming outdoor events, including the Du Quoin State Fair parade which was scheduled for Friday evening.
“With forecasts projecting a high of 100 degrees and heat indexes between 111 and 117 degrees, we feel canceling the parade is in the best interest of our parade participants,” Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II said in a Wednesday news release. “This is not to take away from people enjoying the fair safely, but to avoid a clustering of families along the parade route and parade participants in costumes and uniforms from overheating.”
The Department of Agriculture, which manages the fair in Du Quoin, also canceled Thursday’s Illinois Product Farmers Market in Springfield due to the heat.
Other state agencies have also had to adjust to protect workers from the heat, including the Department of Transportation. A department spokesperson said that, in addition to monitoring for pavement buckling, state crews and some contractors have had to adjust their work schedules to avoid the hottest part of the day.
Communities across Illinois are also being forced to alter school schedules to accommodate the heat.
Schools in Champaign-Urbana canceled class Thursday. Champaign’s school district reported “major failures” at two of their largest school campuses. In northern Illinois, Maple Park schools closed, citing “extremely challenging” circumstances for drivers and students on buses.
Beyond academics, schools have also canceled and modified plans for athletic events.
While the Illinois High School Association, which sets rules for high school athletics, does not track changes to athletic events during the regular season, IHSA spokesperson Matt Troha told Capitol News Illinois the heat has had a “significant impact” on IHSA sports.
IHSA requires schools to move practices and games indoors or cancel then if the “wet bulb globe” temperature exceeds 89.9 degrees. Wet bulb globe temperature combines air temperature, sun exposure, humidity and wind.
While the IHSA does not require schools to let them know of changes to athletic schedules, Troha noted that the association was anecdotally aware of many games being moved to later times of day or to different days.
Natural disasters bring federal aid
Before this week’s record heat, much of Illinois experienced severe drought conditions from May through July, with the peak of the drought coming in June.
This led to the federal Department of Agriculture to issue a series of disaster designations. The designations, which are centered on McDonough, McHenry and Mercer counties, are a follow-up to a previous set of disaster designations from earlier this season. The classification allows the USDA to provide emergency loans to farmers recovering from the droughts.
“While we are seeing improvement in drought conditions across the state, we know that crops and livestock have been impacted,” Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II, said in a news release Wednesday announcing the designations.
Jeff Kirwan, a farmer in Mercer County and board member of the Illinois Farm Bureau, said the droughts have negatively impacted crops in Illinois.
“Especially in June, that’s the most stressful time for farmers,” Kirwan said. “We had a good crop, but then it didn’t rain.”
Kirwan later added that overall, he expects the corn and soybean crop to be around average, although some farmers in areas hit hardest by drought may struggle more.
“The emotion that goes with that was extremely unsettling, very stressful," he said of the recent drought.
In addition to the heat wave and drought, Illinois has also seen several damaging storms and the most tornadoes of any state so far this year.
A series of severe storms and flooding between June 29 and July 2 also drew the attention of the federal government, with President Joe Biden approving federal assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This assistance will go to individuals and businesses in Cook County and can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs and low-interest loans to cover property losses.
“Residents and businesses, especially those on the West Side of Chicago who were most brutally hit, are now able to access additional resources necessary to rebuild and revitalize, and I know Cook County will build back stronger than ever,” Gov. JB Pritzker said in an August 15 news release.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.