It’s summer in Chicago in February

February is usually chilly perfection for the rink in downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park, a favorite winter stop for tourists and local families that sits in the shadow of the reflective sculpture known as the Bean.

On Tuesday morning, the rink was melting.

Under the intense sun and 70-degree air temperature, water slowly seeped out of the empty rink, turning the surrounding concrete blue. The little birds splashed happily in the pools of water. The ticket counter was deserted, apparently closed for the day.

Chicago’s winter — or lack thereof — reached an unsettling peak Tuesday, as the city moved closer to breaking a 48-year high temperature record.

It looked like summer in the city: the windows in the apartments were pushed open to catch the warm breeze. Restaurants set up tables and chairs on the sidewalks for outdoor lunch service, a rare sight in February in Chicago.

The lake shore was bustling with runners, cyclists and couples walking hand in hand.

“We expected it to be very cold,” said Ana Marshall, 41, a doctor from Cadiz, Spain, who arrived in Chicago on Monday for a vacation with her husband, Rolf Hartmann.

They thought about spending their vacation indoors, shopping, visiting museums or attending Blackhawks and Bulls games.

Instead, they found themselves walking along the beach, looking delighted and a little confused. They stopped to take a selfie by Lake Michigan, which is usually frozen and off-limits at this time of year.

“How nice,” said Mr. Hartmann. “It looks like the sea.”

“It’s colder in Spain than here,” said Dr. Marshall.

Others considered the weather to be ominous.

Shailaja Chandrashekararo, a social worker who moved from India to Chicago last year, had just finished a 10-kilometer run downtown. She said she would like to continue running.

“It was too hot,” Ms. Chandrashekararao said, tugging at the sleeve of her neon-orange workout shirt.

Climate change has made summers in India unbearable, dangerously brutal, she said, making Chicago something of a weather haven. But the city’s mild winter, after the warmest year on record in 2023, was eerie and unpredictable.

“I’m not enjoying this,” she said. “It’s pretty crazy, actually.”

Temperatures are also rising across the Midwest, in part due to human-induced climate change, according to the 2023 National Climate Assessment, the government’s main compilation of scientific knowledge about the effect of human-caused warming. The report also states that warming poses a significant economic risk to the region.

Meteorologists have warned that the heat will not last long.

Forecasters said the mild conditions in Chicago and around the Midwest this week were extreme, not just because of the heat, but because of what’s to come.

June-like temperatures will be a factor in producing severe thunderstorms in the Chicago area Tuesday evening and overnight. Some of the storms could produce tornadoes, forecasters said, with the most likely area stretching from Missouri through southern Illinois and northern Indiana to Michigan. Tornadoes that occur after dark can be more dangerous because so many people are asleep.

However, the storm system’s main threat will be hail, possibly including hail the size of chicken eggs or larger.

Unseasonably warm temperatures across the Great Plains, along with high winds, fueled wildfires in Nebraska and Kansas, which remained a threat Tuesday after forced evacuations this week. Wildfires also raged across the Texas Panhandle.

And Tuesday through Wednesday, temperatures could drop nearly 60 degrees in Chicago, according to National Weather Service meteorologist David King.

“It’s extraordinary,” he said, noting that the last time the city saw such a rapid temperature drop was in the 1990s. “It’s just a wild time here in Chicago.”

The normal daytime temperature in Chicago at this time of year is around 40 degrees. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, only 4.3 percent of the surface of the Great Lakes is covered with icesignificantly below average.

The unseasonably warm and dry winter affected tourism in the region, particularly in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, where snow-dependent industries suffered. Governor Tony Evers of Wisconsin announced last week that many northern Wisconsin businesses — ski slopes, restaurants and snowmobile tours, for example — may be eligible for a federal disaster loan program if they suffered losses from the mild winter.

Tuesday’s mild day already felt familiar, said Charles Jones, who manages maintenance work at an apartment building in downtown Chicago.

Mr Jones spent his holiday standing outside in short sleeves while people walked their dogs in the sunshine. He’s lived in Chicago his whole life, he said, and he’s used to the harsh winters the city is known for. But it was hard to remember the last winter where the cold had been truly brutal—”a few years ago, maybe,” he shrugged.

This winter was like last, Mr. Jones said, without much snow or many cold, icy days. In the past few months, he said, he’s only had to salt the sidewalk twice.

“However, I do not believe in this time,” he said. “You know we’re going to get some snow before winter is over. It’s Chicago. It can be 70 and then jump to 30.”

Judson Jones contributed to the reporting.

Leave a Comment