Publication Date October 27, 2021 | CNBC

Chicago is at risk as climate change causes wild swings in Lake Michigan water levels

Chicago, IL
Lake Michigan
Oak Street Beach. Chicago, IL. (Leandro Neumann Ciuffo)

Climate Signals summary: Stretches of heavy rain coupled with periods of drought have caused a litany of issues in Chicago. Climate change is leading to even more instances of "weather whiplash" of extreme precipitation volatility.

Article excerpt: 

While the lakes don’t exactly correlate to rising sea levels, Chicago now sits in just as precarious a position as oceanfront cities. Heavier rainfall and more frequent droughts are now causing extreme swings in the water levels of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, wreaking havoc on the city and prompting urgent action to find a fix.

In the winter of 2020, the water level in Lake Michigan hit a record high and intense rains just kept coming. Waves crashed over Lakeshore Drive, sending water up to the third floor of some buildings. The Chicago River also began to overflow into downtown.

A backup system for flooding was also created: locks that reverse the river back into the lake when the river gets too high. Last year’s rainfall, however, was so severe that for the first time that backup system didn’t work. The lake was higher than the river level, so water could not be reversed.

Lockmasters had to wait until the river rose above the lake before they could start the reversal process. That delay was destructive. Downtown Chicago suffered massive flooding, even knocking out power at the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower.

Experts say this was not a once-in-a-lifetime event, but a sign of what is to come, as climate change causes heavier rains and more intense storms.

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