Extreme weather swings wreak havoc on Chicago

Lake Michigan behind downtown Chicago.
An aerial view of downtown Chicago, on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Kiichiro Sato | AP

Chicago has been battling extreme weather swings that have left the city dealing with flooding, wild lake and river level changes and beach erosion.

Dan Egan, author of “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes,” recently explored the ongoing issue for the New York Times and joined MPR chief meteorologist and Climate Cast host Paul Huttner to talk about the problems. Egan is a journalist in residence at the Center for Water Policy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences.

One of the biggest issues Egan has been examining is the delicate balance between Lake Michigan and the Chicago River.

“The Chicago River is probably one of the most complicated waterways anywhere on the planet,” Egan said.

“What happened in May 2020 was the lake was so high that the river started flooding downtown. And people were thinking, well, let's open the gates and get rid of this water. But they couldn't because the lake was so high,” he said. “So if they had opened those gates, the lake would have come tumbling into town instead of the river tumbling into the lake. So they had to wait until there was significant flooding.”

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. Subscribe to the Climate Cast podcast for more.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.