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Record temps, heavy rain, flooding possible Tuesday

By Jennifer Delgado, Chicago Tribune reporter

7:46 PM CST, January 28, 2013

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Yet another winter weather record could be set in Chicago on Tuesday.

A short-lived warm-up, accompanied by heavy rains, severe thunder and maybe hail, could push temperatures into the mid-60s. The record high for the date, Jan. 29, is 59 degrees, set in 1914.

The unseasonable warmth won't last long, with a high of only 20 forecast for Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

"We tend to get some wild extremes in January," said Jim Allsopp, a meteorologist for the weather service. "It all depends on which way the wind blows."

In this case, there is nothing to block warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico from blowing into the Chicago area. That air will be coming in gusts that could hit 25 mph Tuesday afternoon, accompanied by heavy thunderstorms. The rain is forecast to be severe enough that the weather service already has issued a flood watch.

The warm conditions are a stark change from the beginning of the week. Sunday's skies spit out freezing rain, sleet and ice pellets, sending salt trucks out in force across the Chicago region.

At least five records have been broken since winter arrived in Chicago, according to the National Weather Service. The new records include the number of consecutive days without an inch of snowfall (335) and the longest string of days without a temperature below 32 degrees (310).

While the Chicago area hasn't recorded that much snow this season, 1.77 inches of rain has been reported in January, slightly beating the long-term average for the month of 1.73 inches, said Jim Angel, state climatologist.

With about a third of the state in some form of drought, the increased rainfall is welcome. But some areas might not be able to benefit from the precipitation because the ground there is frozen, Angel said.

Temperatures this month at O'Hare International Airport, the city's official recording station, have ranged from 53 degrees on Jan. 12 to minus 1 on Jan. 22, according to the weather service.

Such extremes aren't unusual in the winter because the Midwest gets caught between cold, arctic air blowing from the north and strong, warm gusts from the south. But the potential record warmth forecast for Tuesday will be helped along greatly by the lack of snow on the ground.

"If we had 2 feet of snow in the ground and we were in a pretty strong winter pattern, we'd probably never see this kind of thing happen," Angel said. "This year it's mild; there's plenty of opportunity for (warm weather) to make its way up north more."

jmdelgado@tribune.com