Sun and snow melt: Chicago warms up after bitter cold and heavy snow

Charles J. Johnson, Chicago Tribune
·3 min read

For Chicagoans accustomed recently to waking each morning to fresh snow and subfreezing temperatures, Tuesday morning might have taken a second to process.

Is that ... the sun? Is the snow ... melting?

Get used to it, the National Weather Service said Tuesday, as the Chicago area’s winter warm-up and snow melting session looks like it will mostly continue throughout the week.

Tuesday, temperatures were forecast hover in the low-to-mid 40s during the day, dropping as low as 32 at night, with some sprinkles of rain possible. It’s not outside the realm of the possible that some parts of northern Illinois could hit 50 degrees, said Lee Carlaw of the Chicago area office of the weather service. The temperature isn’t expected to dip below freezing again until Wednesday night.

Then, look for warmer temperatures to continue into the late week and weekend, with a potential high of 47 degrees Saturday. A mix of sun and clouds is expected all week, with a chance of a few flurries Friday night.

That little cold dip in the middle of the week might pay dividends for owners of Chicago-area basements and riverfront property. There about 2-3 inches of liquid water “trapped” in all the snowfall the area has experienced in the past few weeks, according to recent core samples taken by the weather service. A good meteorology rule of thumb is 10-13 inches of snow is about a solid inch of liquid water, Carlaw said.

But with temps expected in the 40s and high 30s, and a dip below freezing expected midweek, the snow shouldn’t melt so fast as to create wide-scale flooding.

“We’re certainly going to see some eventual river rises here, that water has to go somewhere,” Carlaw said. “The good news is, if we had temps in the 50s that would be a pretty fast snowmelt. That would raise flooding concerns. … That should help to mitigate the amount of flooding that goes on.”

Like heating up a large pot of boiling water, it takes a lot of initial energy to get started melting this much snow, Carlaw said. However, it is possible floating ice jams, cut loose by the rising mercury, could jam up meanders and bends in rivers and area waterways, which can create short-term overruns.

Sunny days after a period of freeze and snow can create hazardous falling ice, and injuries have been known to occur from ice falling off even a single-story home.

“Be aware of your surroundings,” a physician at Stroger Hospital told the Tribune in 2019. “Take a look up as you are walking and be aware if there are big patches of ice that are precariously dangling.”

Heavy snow has been blamed for at least 20 building collapses in Chicago — as much as one per day since late January. A gas station canopy in Des Plaines also gave way Monday, and other collapses have been blamed on the snow throughout the Chicago suburbs.

And while it definitely isn’t beach weather yet, the Chicago Park District announced Tuesday the city’s lakefront, playgrounds and indoor pools will reopen after they closed nearly a year ago during initial COVID-19 shutdowns in the spring.

For more on the forecast, visit the Tribune’s weather page.