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" I'm coming to Chicago, what will the weather be like?" This question has been asked countless times in the Chicago Forum. Therefore, this article was put together to help visitors plan accordingly.
You've probably heard that Chicago is "the Windy City ".... Sometimes it might be a bit windy, but this nickname has nothing to do with the weather. Or, maybe you've heard the saying "so, you don't like Chicago's weather? Just wait an hour!" As you read on, you'll find it's not that simple!
The average WINTER daytime temperatures run from the hi 20's/lo 30's and lows in the teens. Occasionally, we get a "thaw" where temps soar into the 40's and even into the 50's in the dead of winter. On the other hand, we can get bitter cold (aka-the " Polar Vortex" ) for extended periods with temps in the single digit and below zero range. It is normal to have these extremes in any given winter.
SPRING in Chicago is all over the map---early spring (March/April) can still feel like winter, with the real possibility of major snowstorms. Some years, temps have gotten down to the single digits, and other years we've had 80's, such as in 2012, when we had a record of 87 degrees, the warmest March temp ever recorded in Chicago. Late spring (May/June) can run fairly cool (highs in the 50's) or feel like summer with temps in the 80's. The wildcard in all of this is Lake Michigan. In the spring, the lake water is still very cold, so if the wind is blowing from the east (off Lake Michigan) it can, and will, be downright cold within a mile or three from the shoreline. Keep this in mind if you plan to go to an early season Cubs game!
SUMMER seems to be the most stable season as far as temps go. Expect daytime high temps to be in the 80's, with 90's very possible. We even get an occasional 100º plus day(s), but if it happens, it's only once or twice a year, and not every year. Occasionally, we'll get a "cold snap" with hi temps in the low 70's, or even the 60's, but it's unusual. It is however, fairly normal to have nighttime temps in the 60's. It's worth mentioning, our hot summer days are often accompanied by high humidity, often followed by thunderstorms. Sometimes, it gets downright tropical.
Early FALL (September) can be a glorious time to visit Chicago, and the Midwest in general with temps in the 70's and occasional low 80's and lower humidity. Late fall (after Halloween) usually gets fairly cold---expect temps to be from the 30's to the 50's, with an occasional 60º day. As a footnote, peak leaf-peeping season tends to be late October, but by mid-November, most of the leaves are gone.
It snows WINTER, but you knew that already. But, if we get a thaw as described above, it can rain. But getting back to snow---contrary to what you might have read, we DON'T get massive amounts of snow every winter. Our average seasonal snowfall is only about 39 inches…spread that over 4-5 months, it's not that much…..really. Every few years, we get a blizzard , with 12 plus inches of snow, but the likelihood of that happening during your visit is small. But it is very possible to be here during an average, garden variety snow event (less than 6 inches in a storm).
As mentioned above, SPRING can run the gamut… In fact, some of our biggest snowstorms have occurred in March. But generally, March and April are cool and rainy, and in the opinion of this author, the least desirable time to visit Chicago---GENERALLY too cold /rainy for warm weather fun, and too mild/rainy for winter fun. This is the "mud season" , when the ground is soggy, and most foliage is bare and brown. Late spring can be rainy too, but the temps are milder. Foliage usually starts to leaf-out in early to mid May, with everything lush green by early June.
SUMMER can be hot and dry---even drought-like in some years, or, it can be very rainy, as it's been in some recent years. During rainy springs and summers, mosquitos can be an issue--not so much in the city proper, but out in the wooded forest preserves, outdoor music venues etc.
FALL also runs the gamut--September is often dry and sunny. Late October and November tend to be rainy. And occasionally, we'll see snow, as we did during Halloween, 2014.
The main concerns are during the WINTER, when driving can be hazardous, and parking restrictions are in effect. Chicago, the surrounding counties and suburbs generally do an excellent job of clearing the main roads during and after a snow event. Even after a foot of snow, by the next day, the roads are usually in pretty good shape. It's when we get that 10 or 15 year blizzard is when things get interesting---huge snowbanks, buried cars, traffic nightmares (well, actually the nightmares occur during any snowstorm, especially when they hit in the middle of rush-hour). The wildcard in all of this is LAKE EFFECT SNOWSTORMS wreaking havoc a short distance away. It may be dry and sunny on this side of Lake Michigan, but in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan, it can be a blinding blizzard, even whiteout conditions, all generated by cold air blowing over the relatively warm waters of Lake Michigan. Definitely pay close attention to the weather forecasts if these conditions are a likelihood.
WARNING---there are strict winter parking restrictions in the City of Chicago . If you plan to park on the street, read any and all signs carefully so you won't get ticketed and/or towed! Even the suburbs have restrictions, but they tend to be less aggressive, nevertheless, make sure you are aware.
Hopefully this article will help you plan and pack accordingly. It is strongly advised to check the weather websites just before you leave home. The weather forecasters might not get it right all the time, but surprisingly, they're pretty good about forecasting major weather changes a week to 1.5 weeks out. For example, let's say a week before you arrive, we're having a "polar vortex". You look at the long range forecast and they say a "January thaw" or a "warming trend" is coming next week. They usually get these right, or at least pretty close. Therefore, you would pack for 30's and 40's, rather than for below zero.
And finally, whenever driving into, and around Chicago, be sure to tune in AM 780/FM 105.9 for constant weather and traffic updates.
Websites to check before you leave home:
General weather forecasts and info:
If you're driving to/in/around Chicago this is a good site for tracking precip, especially snow:
If you plan to play in Lake Michigan, this will have water temp, waves, ice etc info:
Hi res local satellite images for the curious (tho, it does show you the snow cover of the region):