Triple-digit temperatures in Forest Park may not be that uncommon in the future as climate change continues to modify weather patterns in the village, and the two scorching days last week demonstrate how heat brings changes to things most take for granted, such as school activities and outdoor cultural programming.

For the most part, Forest Park endured the heat fairly well, although Joliet’s airport measured a heat index of 119. The Mohr Community Center functioned as a cooling center for most of its regular operating hours, and Forest Park Public Library was open during regular hours to give residents an opportunity to cool off and refill their water bottles. 

Union Pacific Railroad, which operates the Union Pacific West commuter rail line under contract with Metra, slowed its trains. CTA asked riders to report any air conditioning issues on buses and trains, while Pace, the suburban bus operator, encouraged riders to avoid non-essential travel and “wait in safe and cool areas” for the buses. Many communities were asked to conserve energy while roughly 2,000 people lost power across the state by the second day of heat.

Park District director Jackie Iovinelli told the Review that while they didn’t adjust the pool hours, they added more staff on Aug. 23 and 24 to deal with the expected surge in demand.

“With the children back at school during the day, we are providing a nice Aquatic Center to cool off in the afternoon,” she said. “Both Wednesday and Thursday we exceeded any number of guests on a normal weekday after the kids go back to school.”

But in a region where all communities do not have the same access to resources and infrastructure, extreme weather events could disproportionately affect neighboring communities that have been under resourced.

For example, the heat – which felt as hot as 115 degrees in some areas – disrupted Chicago West Siders’ activities, from everyday chores to special events. Last Wednesday, for example, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs shifted its scheduled Chicago SummerDance dance event from Douglass Park’s outdoor area to the park’s air-conditioned fieldhouse at 1401 S Sacramento Dr. The next day, a youth event bringing fire dancing and drumming to the 3000 block of West Fifth Avenue in the West Garfield Park neighborhood was canceled because of the heat advisory.

Compared with the early 1900s, Chicago’s weather is warmer and wetter, according to a report by the city of Chicago. In the city, precipitation has increased 12% to 15%, bringing more rain in the summertime, as reported in the city’s 2022 climate action plan.

Last week’s heat was a result of a “heat dome,” or an atmospheric trap of hot air funneled from the Gulf of Mexico that parked over the Midwest. Yet, scientists have warned that the “frequency, duration and intensity of heat waves in Chicago are likely to increase substantially” due to climate change.

 A 2008 Chicago climate change report, estimated that extreme heat waves in Chicago could occur twice a decade by 2050. If globally greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, increasing the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, by the end of the century there could be several heatwaves each summer.

During last week’s heat wave, residents in heat islands — areas with less greenspace and more asphalt, which are common in Chicago’s West Side — experienced a more intense heat effect. On average, day temperatures in heat islands can be 1 to 7 degrees Farenheit higher than in outlying areas, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Austin resident Sonya Hughes could attest to that.

“It was too hot to be out,” she said. She took “many cold showers,” wore a wet towel and tried to stay out of the heat, using a fan to keep her apartment cool because her air conditioning stopped working. 

Hughes, 50, said she stayed out of the heat to prevent any health issues, though she was forced to be outside one day to attend a doctor’s appointment. 

She was right to be careful, experts said. Extreme weather, for example, can cause heat strokes and increase hospital admissions for cardiovascular disease, kidney and respiratory disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Heat can also be deadly. In 1995, a seven-day heat wave resulted in more than 700 excess deaths in Chicago. Nationwide, heat was the number one weather-related cause of death for the last three decades, heat was the number one weather-related cause of death, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Living in a traditionally under-resourced community further complicates that: A 2015 analysis found that the highest number of mortalities occurred in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Spreading awareness

During last week’s heat wave, in neighboring Oak Park, Ana Garcia-Doyle had to limit the amount of time she spent outdoors. She suffers from asthma, putting her at higher risk of a health complication as excessive heat worsens air quality, the CDC warns. Garcia-Doyle is the executive director of One Earth Collective, a nonprofit that helps run a community urban farm in partnership with Austin-based BUILD Chicago.  

Over the summer, she worked with Austin youth in an environmental education program at the urban farm. She noticed they were more interested in learning about the effects of climate change when they directly could feel the effects of climate-related events. Earlier this summer, they were surprised by the effects of poor air quality caused by Canadian wildfires, which could be felt in Chicago. 

Other environmental programs like the one led by Garcia-Doyle can serve as ways to increase awareness of the disproportionate effect of climate change.

For example, earlier this summer, the city of Chicago launched a resident-led program to better map heat inequities, as part of a nationwide program led by NOAA. 

The Heat Watch 2023 program invites volunteers to travel certain city routes with heat sensors. Each sensor measures temperature, humidity, time and location to identify areas disproportionately affected by heat.