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'Wake-up call': Chicago set to break 73-year-old snowless record

Chicago residents have managed to avoid one winter chore almost altogether this year: shoveling. The city perched on the shores of Lake Michigan, ever braced for a harsh winter, is set to break a decades-old record for lack of snow.

On Wednesday, assuming forecasts hold, the city will have its 320th day without an inch of snow, breaking a record set in the winter of 1939-1940, according to Accuweather. A dusting in Chicago on Sunday brought the snow total for the whole winter to a meager 1.3 inches.


"This is a wake-up call of how we may have to adapt," said Brant Miller, chief meteorologist at NBC's Chicago affiliate, referring to the process of climate change that contributes to the unusual weather. "It’s not going to be business as usual going forward."

Chicago winters typically produce 11.5 inches by this time of the year, NBC Chicago reported. Wednesday started out sunny and in the 30s, and was predicted to reach a high of 43 degrees, with no precipitation in the forecast, according to Accuweather.

 The lack of snow this season is due in part to a split jet stream that has pushed storm systems around the city -- to the north and south.

"We have this pattern now… The cold air is bottled up up north of Chicago, and the moisture stays to the south," he said.

Also, temperatures have been balmy, at least by Chicago standards. The season’s lowest reading so far this winter was 10 degrees, still far above the average winter low of minus 9 degrees. On Tuesday, the temperature hovered around 40-45 degrees, and temperatures are expected to rise into the 50s later in the week.

2012 is warmest year ever for US

The warmer weather has meant more rain than snow in the Chicago area, including nearly 2 inches of rain in the run-up to Christmas.

Although a mild winter may be a relief for many, it can be a disappointment for others, such as those who plow snow for a living or snowmobiling enthusiasts.

Some of the longer-term implications of mild temperatures and lack of moisture may include a continued decline in the level of Lake Michigan, which Miller said is already two feet below average. When the lake does not freeze over, as is the case this year, the water evaporates more readily.

Lack of snow also could further impact the navigability of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, including the Illinois River, which are key conduits for grain and other goods in the Midwest.  

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