In the early morning hours of February 6, a two-foot-wide meteorite streaked across downtown Chicago, leaving a bright green trail in its wake. The meteorite took a northeast trajectory before plunging off the coast of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, about 150 miles away.
While Chicago is protected from most natural disasters, it remains vulnerable to a meteorite strike.
I asked two local experts, Dr. Mark Hammergren, astronomer and meteorite specialist at the Adler Planetarium, and Joy Squires, Chief Communications Officer of the American Red Cross Chicago Region, what would happen if Chicago were struck by a meteorite.
TP: Mark, should we be worried?
MH: Is this something to be concerned about? No. Bright meteors are rare from any given location. A meteor leaves a streak of light in the sky; a meteorite is a rock that drops to earth. Although a woman in Alabama was struck by meteorites as she lay sleeping in a sofa in her living room.
TP: Can you say what would happen if a larger asteroid hit the lake?
MH: A tsunami [would be] possible. That is a concern for midsize asteroids, something [between] 100 and 1,000 feet could generate a wave that could cause damage. That said, something a lot smaller could cause damage if it came directly over the city. A sonic boom—the blast of air—from a meteorite in Chelyabinsk, Russia, was so intense it broke many windows and sent 1,600 people to the hospital.
TP: Has a meteor ever hit Chicago?
MH: In 2003, there was a bright meteor in the sky, and then rocks started falling over Chicago’s south suburbs. Some hit houses and cars.
TP: Joy, what would be the challenges for helping the New Eastside through a major meteor strike?
JS: With any concentrated area, there are challenges to helping people just look out. With Hurricane Sandy in downtown New York, [it was] “How do we work in the high-rises and get food up to people”… and the elevators being out. We also wouldn’t know where the shelter area would be… decisions would have to be made in the moment.
TP: Is there anything New Eastsiders can do to feel less helpless?
JS: Be informed. Get the Red Cross emergency app; it tells you where shelters are and what they need.
— Tricia Parker, Staff Writer