Chicago prepares for excessive heat: ‘Take it seriously’

Hot and humid weather is forecast for the Chicago metro area Thursday and Friday, creating dangerous conditions for older adults and vulnerable populations, officials said.

A heat advisory that was issued Wednesday for most counties south of Interstate 80 is expected to expand north on Thursday, including most of the Chicago metro area, said Scott Baker with the National Weather Service.

How hot will it get?

Temperatures will reach the high 90s on Thursday and Friday, but the biggest concern for weather service meteorologist Kevin Doom is that the high humidity will make it feel hotter than what the temperature gauge says.

“We’ve been pretty lucky so far this year, with the lack of humidity during some of our hotter stretches, but this time around it looks like the humidity is going to play a bigger role,” Doom told the Tribune.

The heat index is a measure of relative humidity and air temperature. It’s a closer representation of how it really feels outside, an important measurement for weather officials deciding when to issue heat warnings and advisories.

On Thursday and Friday, the heat index will range from 95 to 105 degrees with the highest temperatures occurring away from the lakefront. At that temperature range, heat-related illness and heat exhaustion are more common, according to the National Weather Service.

Although temperatures are expected to soar on back-to back days, it won’t technically be considered a heat wave. A heat wave is a period of abnormally hot weather generally lasting more than two days, according to the weather service.

This week’s heat and humidity are remnants of the blistering heat wave that affected millions across the West and Southwest, Doom said. But the system has weakened as it has traveled east.

“That’s sort of shifting eastward a little bit, but luckily, as it does, it’s going to kind of fizzle away and so that’s why we’re not expecting temperatures quite as high,” he said.

How to prevent and spot heat-related health issues

Heat is the top weather-related killer in the United States, even though many deaths are preventable, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Medical experts say heat isn’t as visible as other weather disasters or taken as seriously.

Juan Cobo, primary care physician and geriatrics specialist at Rush Oak Park Hospital, said it’s important to stay hydrated and keep away from direct sun exposure. If you have to go outside, wear light-colored and thin clothing and consider drinking electrolytes.

Dehydration is one of the first signs of heat-related illness, Cobo said, which can range from mild heat exhaustion to serious, sometimes fatal, heatstroke. Other symptoms include changes in blood pressure, fainting or dizziness.

Heatstroke has those same symptoms but also includes a high body temperature of 103 degrees or more, confusion, hot or red skin and a fast pulse. If you think someone might have heatstroke, call 911 immediately.

“Anytime the temperatures go above 90, you should pay attention to it,” Cobo said. In places like northern Illinois where most people aren’t used to high temperatures, the body might respond differently than someone in Florida would.

Older adults are one of the most vulnerable groups during a heat wave or periods of high temperatures. Cobo said the body’s ability to regulate temperature decreases as you age or become less active.

People don’t think about the medication they take as also being a potential risk factor, Cobo said. He suggests checking in on family members and neighbors, especially those living alone.

“If we’re giving someone, let’s say, medications to lower their blood pressure, or we’re giving them diuretics, which actually make their kidneys pee more, that increases the capacity, the chance of organs to have injury,” he said.

Cobo was a medical resident during the infamous 1995 Chicago heat wave, where over 700 heat-related deaths were recorded over the course of five days. Most deaths were older individuals who didn’t have air conditioning or didn’t turn it on because of high costs.

Chicago has a documented pattern of heat disparities by race, ethnicity and also health insurance coverage, an investigation by the Tribune found. On Friday, volunteers throughout Chicago will participate in a city-run program to map these disparities.

“We know that there are historical events and policies that have made these disparities more pronounced,” Kyra Woods, a city of Chicago policy adviser on environment and climate, said last month at the program’s launch.

Cobo also strongly recommends staying informed by watching the news or keeping up with city emergency notifications.

“When you start hearing all this rumbling, take it seriously. Be prepared. It is not a joke,” he said.

Resources for relief

Chicago residents can seek relief at any public library location, Park District field houses and splash pads around the city.

Cooling centers will be available at the following locations. Face masks are required and can be obtained at the centers:

  • Englewood Center, 1140 W. 79th St.

  • Garfield Center, 10 S. Kedzie Ave. (24 hours)

  • King Center, 4314 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

  • North Area Center, 845 W. Wilson Ave.

  • South Chicago Center, 8650 S. Commercial Ave.

  • Trina Davila Center, 4312 W. North Ave.

Residents can also call 311, check online at or download the CHI311 app to request a wellness check by the city or get connected to health resources.

Cook County officials on Tuesday also announced the opening of cooling centers from Wednesday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and those can be found on the county’s website. The county is also opening cooling centers at the Skokie, Maywood and Bridgeview courthouses.