Melba Lara: In 2022, the state of Illinois was both colder and drier than normal, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Illinois state climatologist Trent Ford recently completed a wrap up of last year's weather data and he's here to help us make some sense of those numbers. Trent, welcome back.
Trent Ford: Hey Melba. Always good to be here.
Melba Lara: So like I mentioned, you found that Illinois was cooler than normal last year, but you also found that it tied for the 51st warmest year on record. How does that actually work?
Trent Ford: Yeah, it's tough to square. So are our statewide records go back to 1895. So even though last year 2022 was 1.6 degrees colder than our 30 year normal, it was also in the warmest half of years - and the reason being is pretty much simply climate change. So one of the biggest signals of climate change in Illinois is a long term warming trend. And so what that means is, is that the last 30 years on which our 30 year normals are based are inherently warmer than the twentieth-century average. And so it does take some explaining to kind of square the fact that we can be both a cooler than normal and warmer than average.
Melba Lara: Sure, sure. And let's take a look at last year in a little bit more detail if you don't mind. Was every part of the year cooler than normal in Illinois or do we see some ebbs and flows with that?
Trent Ford: Yeah, always the variability from month to month. If we can remember all the way back to January last year, that January statewide was was almost five degrees below normal and it was actually closer to five degrees below normal for Chicago. February followed suit, about three degrees below normal, and then we had some variability. March and May were much warmer than normal. June was slightly warmer than normal. And what's interesting is the last really six months of the year, from July all the way through December, none of those months were any more than may be 1.2-1.3 degrees above or below normal. So it was pretty mild as far as the anomalies were concerned, and mild through the end of the year. So I think it was really January and February that kind of tipped the scales to make 2022 overall cooler than normal.
Melba Lara: You also say Illinois was drier than normal in 2022. But I understand that may not feel write some people depending on where you live in the state.
Trent Ford: Yeah, I always separate the state by interstates just because it's easy to do, it makes a gridwork, but you know, most places north of I-88: you know, think of Rockford, Freeport, Galena were you know, 1 to 2 inches wetter than normal. And places along the I-70 corridor from St. Louis to the Effingham-only area, that kind of south central Illinois, they were also 2-3 inches wetter than normal. But anywhere in between including the city of Chicago all the way to the Quad Cities down here to Champagne and then far southern Illinois was 2-4 inches dryer than normal. And so because that makes up a larger swath of the state, that dries one out. You know there was nowhere in the state that was really extremely dry, but overall at average to just a little bit of a dryer than normal year for the, for the state as a whole.
Melba Lara: One of the things that stood out to me was this statistic that we had the fewest tornadoes reported statewide since 2007? Tell us about that. What was the severe weather situation like last year?
Trent Ford: Yeah, one of these patterns that nobody is really going to cry a river for over is getting too few tornadoes across the state. And yeah, we ended up with 34. Now that is a unofficial number. The Noah Storm Prediction Center makes that official sometime in the middle of the year. But 34, that would give us the fewest tornadoes in any year since 2007. And what's interesting here is that this last year, 2022, we were in the kind of grips of La Nina, which is kind of the cousin to El Nino. And research has shown that this part of the country tends to get a bit higher tornado frequency during La Nina years. We certainly got that in the La Nina year of 2021 and in 2020. But this last year, you know, that's kind of the variability... we definitely were below normal as far as tornado frequency.
Melba Lara: Trent, thanks for talking to us about the past year in Illinois weather.
Trent Ford: Hey, thanks for having me on Melba.
Melba Lara: I've been speaking with Illinois state climatologist Trent Ford. This is WBEZ.
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