Chicago Weather

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About a week ago, I made a change that signaled a moment that I enjoy every year it comes: I retired my jeans to the closet in favor of my shorts.

For the past week the weather has been temperate and beautiful, hovering in the mid to high 70’s, and looking at the forecast for this week, it looks like the trend will continue (in the 80s even!).  As relief that winter seems to have passed is very much in the air for everyone here at Columbia, I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about what you can expect from the weather in Chicago.

When the Creative Producing class had its “Boot Camp” last August, I met Aladdin, a classmate of mine from Hawaii, for the first time.  Like some of the other students, Aladdin had a bit of trepidation about what he needed to do to prepare to live through a Chicago winter.  He had heard that winters in Chicago can be brutal, and having never lived in a place in which snow falls during wintertime, he simply didn’t know what to expect.  He feared winter would be painful.

Chicago winters indeed are legendary.  We are called “The Windy City” because as we border Lake Michigan, we often experience lake effect winds that can lower the temperature, and in winter this can lead to exceptionally bone-chilling experiences.  There are also horror stories of blizzards and other major snowstorms, which do hit us from time to time.

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But while the mythology surrounding Chicago weather is frightful, in my experience reality tells quite a different story.  This past winter, for example, was exceptionally mild: we only saw three snowfalls that left a lasting snow covering throughout the entire season, and many days in December I didn’t even need to wear my warmest jacket.  Aladdin didn’t know what he was so worried about.

So why is there so much fear and trepidation about the weather here?  As a lifelong native of the Chicago area, I believe I’ve uncovered the secret: people here simply complain about the weather.  And the more they grumble, the bigger an issue it seems.  It’s cultural.

Granted, Chicago does indeed have seasonal extremes: our summers do indeed get very hot (often in the high 90’s), and our winters typically do get very cold.  But if you prepare for the weather, you can minimize any unpleasantness quite easily.

When you come to Chicago, be prepared to purchase a warm hat, gloves, and a winter coat that is designed to keep you warm.  I have two that work well for me: a North Face jacket with a thermal lining on the inside for moderately cold temperatures, as well as a down jacket for when it is seriously cold.  That’s all I’ve ever needed in wintertime.  In the summers, make sure you stay hydrated and wear a hat if you need to.  And in either summer or winter, if the temperature is too extreme, don’t plan on spending time outside: only go out for as long as you need to.

If you follow these simple tips, Chicago weather should be a breeze!