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New Study Predicts Deadly Heat Waves in Chicago and Midwest

August 26, 2009

Chicago, IL - It's been a relatively cool summer in Chicago and many other Midwestern cities, but a new study says the area is at risk of sweltering summers that could turn deadly. The report, by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the group Physicians for Social Responsibility, predicts rising temperatures and extreme heat waves in urban areas, including Chicago, over the next decade.

According to Cecily Smith, a water resources specialist for NWF's Prairie Rivers Network, it's a good thing the city has been planning ahead.

"The green practices that Chicago is putting into place are really some of the key solutions. Adopting the green infrastructure practices is one very important step."

Although Chicago has planted thousands of trees and a green roof atop City Hall, it was included in the report as one of 30 U.S. cities at greatest risk for a killer heat wave. It's a combination of factors, Smith explains: Chicago has many low-income residents who happen to have asthma, are without air conditioning or are elderly; and the city already has high levels of air pollution.

Cities need to find solutions, says Smith - adopting such methods as green roofs, porous pavement and rain gardens. Of course, with many states in budget crunches, there are those who believe it's too expensive to "go green." She acknowledges it may seem that way, in the beginning.

"When you talk especially about the green infrastructure practices, it actually - over the long-term - is a cost savings."

While people who live in rural areas of Illinois won't feel the heat as much as city-dwellers surrounded by asphalt and concrete, Smith says they are vulnerable as well.

"In rural areas, we're thinking about water - water sources, water supplies. That's all going to be impacted again by increased temperatures."

The southern jet stream that has kept this summer's weather cool can just as easily turn north again and leave the Midwest sizzling, she adds. The NWF study predicts a 4 to 11 degree increase in temperatures over the next ten years. Read it online at www.nwf.org.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL