ILLINOIS HAS AN area of 57,914 sq. mi. (149,997 sq. km.), with inland water making up 756 sq. mi. (1,958 sq. km.) and Great Lakes coast water of 1,575 sq. mi. (4,079 sq. km.). Illinois's average elevation is 600 ft. (183 sq. m.) above sea level and made up of four geographic regions: the Central Lowland (with extensive flatlands covering most of the state), the Interior Low Plateaus, the Ozark Plateaus, and the Gulf Coastal Plain (in the southern part of state). Illinois has warm to hot summers and cool to cold winters. In the winter, polar air masses move south or southeast across the state from Canada, bringing cold and crisp weather. In the summer, warm air masses move up from the Gulf of Mexico, and the weather is often hot and muggy. Lake Michigan tempers the summer heat somewhat for Chicago and other cities along its shores, and also delays the date of the first fall frosts nearby.
With no natural barriers like mountains, Illinois experiences the full sweep of winds. Easterly and southeasterly winds are mild and wet, southerly winds are warm and showery, westerly winds are dry with moderate temperatures, and northwesterly and northerly winds are cool and dry. The winds are controlled by storm systems. Precipitation (rainfall and snowfall) generally increases from north to south, with a state average of 37 in. (94 cm.) per year. Annual snow average is 30 in. (76 cm.) in the north and 10 in. (25 cm.) in the south. Lake Michigan has minimal influence on prevailing winds, and storm systems move in the same direction.
Rich soil accounts for high crop production (corn and soybeans); the northern two-thirds of the state lie in the Corn Belt. Fruit crops, especially peaches, apples, and strawberries, are raised in the southern hill lands. Industrial and urban centers exist along the Mississippi River. Coal-burning and nuclear power plants generate electricity in Illinois. Based on energy consumption data from the Energy Information Administration's State Energy Consumption, Price, and Expenditure Estimates (SEDS) released June 1, 2007, Illinois's total carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion in million metric tons carbon dioxide for 2004 were 235.97, made up of contributions from: commercial, 12.15; industrial, 38.53; residential, 24.71; transportation, 68.58; and electric power, 92.
In the past 15 years, the state experienced a severe drought in 1988, flooding in 1993 and 2002 (partly because of the flatness of the land), heat waves in 1995 and 1996, and a destructive windstorm in Bloom-ington in 1999. The drought emergency declared throughout much of Illinois in 2005 illustrates the potential problems associated with global warming. Farmers, communities, and wildlife all depend on healthy stream flows throughout the state. Six counties on the shore of Lake Michigan (in the largest lake system, containing one-fifth of Earth's open fresh water) and the city of Chicago rely on Lake Michigan as a source of drinking water. Global warming projections indicate higher rain and snow levels in winter and spring in Illinois, and estimated summer temperatures increasing 9-17 degrees F (5-9 degrees C) by the end of the century.
While climate models vary on the amount of temperature increase possible, potential risks include decreased water supplies, population displacement (both human and animal), and changes in food production, with agricultural production improving in cooler climates and decreasing in warmer climates. Changes in rain patterns to downpours, with the potential for flash flooding, raise the health risks of certain infectious diseases from water contamination or disease-carrying vectors such as mosquitoes, ticks, and rodents. Warmer temperatures can also cause heat-related illnesses and lead to higher concentrations of ground-level ozone pollution, causing respiratory illnesses, especially in cities. Increased temperatures would in turn increase evaporation rates and cause drier soil conditions. Torrential rain would contribute to major flooding. Inconsistent precipitation levels are projected to put more pressure on already scarce water resources, causing the potential for decreased corn and soybean yields.
In July 2005, the Illinois Commerce commission passed a plan urging state power companies to obtain at least 2 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2006, increasing the amount by 1 percent every year to 8 percent in 2012. Illinois's greenhouse gas reduction target is to meet 1990 levels of six greenhouse gases by 2020, with emissions falling below 1990 levels by 2050. Illinois established the Climate Change Advisory Group in October of 2006. Illinois joined the Climate Registry, a voluntary national initiative to track, verify and report greenhouse gas emissions, with acceptance of data from state agencies, corporations, and educational institutions in January 2008.
In 2005, the governor signed a law, effective July 2006, requiring local governments, school districts, universities, community colleges, and mass transit agencies to fuel their diesel vehicles with 2 percent biodiesel, a renewable fuel made from soybeans or agricultural waste. They will join the state facilities already using the two percent biodiesel per an executive order passed in 2002. As early as 1996, Illinois legislators were developing a strategy in response to global greenhouse gas emissions. Illinois wanted to be ahead of potential federal mandates. A taskforce developed greenhouse gas inventories and identified greenhouse gas emissions reduction programs. Some actions were deemed necessary regardless of global warming predictions, including strengthening water laws for quantity and quality, remapping floodplains, and continued research on the structural integrity of construction in vulnerable areas in Chicago, the Illinois River Basin, and the Great Lakes Basin.
SEE ALSO: Carbon Dioxide; Climate Models; Greenhouse Gases.
BIBLIoGRAPHY. A.N. Garwood, Weather America: Latest Detailed Climatological Data for Over 4,000 Places and Rankings (Toucan Valley Publications, 1996); State of Illinois, "Governor Blagojevich Signs Law to Boost Use of Biodiesel in State and Local Government Vehicles" www. illinois.gov (cited July 2005).
Lyn Michaud Independent Scholar
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