The Changing Seasons

The Four Seasons Ain't Just a Hotel

Quick question: Name a city with less wind than Boston, and more clear sunny days than Miami. Give up? Here's a hint: We dye the river green for St. Patrick's Day. You've got it, it's Chicago.

Surprised? Many people are. Of course, that's probably because average Chicagoans like to think of themselves as the toughest individuals in the world, able to withstand viciously cold winters, summers humid enough to wash your car without turning on the hose, and gale force winds powerful enough to blow the tourists on Michigan Avenue back to wherever they came from. Indeed, we take a perverse pleasure in the image of a bundled-up football fan (icicles hanging from their moustache) cheering his heart out for his beloved Bears in the middle of a blizzard.

The truth, though, is that there are plenty of American cities whose winters are much colder than Chicago's, summer humidity here is distinctly average, and the only way a tourist is going to get blown around in Chicago is if they take a sailboat out onto Lake Michigan.

All in all, the weather in Chicago is embarrassingly pleasant for our macho image, with many a clear sunny day, four distinct seasons to enjoy throughout the year, and a pleasant lake breeze that originates from the 174 trillion cubic foot heat sink that is Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan acts as a cooling influence in the summer, and a warming influence in the winter, not the other way around as Chicagoans might have outsiders believe.

Some statistics to chew on:

  • In the dog days of August, Chicago's average high is a pleasant 81.2 degrees - lower than New York, Atlantic City, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Denver, Washington D.C. (Let's not even talk about places like L.A., or Phoenix)
  • Chicago's annual average low of 39.8 degrees is warmer than Colorado Springs, Reno, Denver, Flagstaff, Milwaukee, Minneapolis
  • There is precipitation in Chicago an average of 124 days a year. Other cities get rained on a lot more: Boston, Miami, Cincinnati, San Juan, Asheville, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Seattle, Portland (Oregon and Maine)
  • How about "The Windy City?" We've got wind, but a whole bunch of places have more: Dallas, San Francisco, Cleveland, Kansas City, New York, Honolulu, Boston
  • There's nothing better than a clear crisp day, and Chicago has a lot more of them than Colorado Springs, Cincinnati, Miami, Portland, OR, Detroit, Cleveland, and Seattle
  • Nobody likes humidity, and if you're waking up in Chicago, you're experiencing equal or less humidity than Key West, Cleveland, Dallas, Austin, Rochester, Kansas City, Atlanta, Atlantic City, St. Louis, Washington D.C., San Antonio, Santa Barbara, Miami, Seattle, San Francisco, Tampa, Daytona Beach, New Orleans, Orlando, and Houston

Fall in Chicago
Fall in Chicago
Even more embarrassing for the image of the 'tough Chicagoan' is the complete and utter lack of natural disasters in Metro Chicago. So while others elsewhere face the very real fears of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and mudslides, all the poor Chicagoan can do is ruminate on the time that "truly vicious" thunderstorm knocked out the electricity and made them miss the last 10 minutes of Wednesday's “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire”.

So the next time a Chicagoan starts spouting out about their bad weather, simply pat them affectionately on the shoulder, say "yes, dear; I know, you're very tough, " and keep to yourself the fact that they didn't seem to mind the cold last winter when they were warming by the fire with a cup of cocoa, and that the heat didn't appear overly egregious when they were playing volleyball on one of Chicago's 33 beaches.

Maybe, one season soon, when pennant hopes bloom for the Cubs as they do every spring, they will still be alive when the leaves turn in fall. But you can count on wearing "icicle chic" Bears wear every winter because we Chicagoans do consider domed stadiums acts against Mother Nature.

Chicago's Seasons Are Full of Things to Do

Chicago is more than an indoor cultural Mecca. There are exciting activities to enjoy throughout the year. Here's just a glimpse of what you can do no matter what the season.

Spring (Average Temperature Range 28.5° to 69.9°)

  • Galleries
  • Critter watching (131 species of global importance in the area)
  • Gardening (Urbs in horto "City in a garden" is the City's motto)
  • Softball (traditional 13" softball, or Chicago's very own 16" softball)
  • U-pick (strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, asparagus...)
  • Camping
  • Golfing (5,229 holes)
  • Take the family to Lincoln Park Zoo or Brookfield Zoo

Summer (Average Temperature range: 57.2° to 83.5°)

  • Boating from one of Chicago's 5,000+ boat slips (the most in the nation, Long Beach California is second)  
  • Walking along Chicago's 29 miles of shoreline
  • Swimming in one of Chicago's 33 beaches
  • Hiking with the Sierra Club on its organized hikes
  • Flying model airplanes in one of Chicago's 552 Parks
  • Jet-skiing
  • Tubing down the river
  • Commuting to work by rowboat (if you own a house on the river)
  • Listening to free outdoor concerts with the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra
  • Attending outdoor art shows like "Around the Coyote" (over 200 artists presenting)
  • Great Lakes Shipwreck diving
  • Scuba Diving
  • Rollerblading and biking down designated paths on the lakefront, and in the 67,000 acres of Forest Preserve (Bicycling Magazine ranked Chicago as one of its top ten bicycling cities)
  • Farmers markets (30 different locations in the city alone)
  • Neighborhood festivals
  • Fireworks 2 times per week at Navy Pier

Fall (Average Temperature Range 31.6° to 73.9°)

  • Cider mills/apple orchards
  • Canoeing
  • Kite flying
  • Soccer, Cricket, Rugby, Football, Baseball (209 football/soccer fields, 520 baseball diamonds)
  • Skydiving
  • Driving to Michigan/Wisconsin to view the fall colors
  • Thanksgiving Day Parade
  • Chicago Bears/Northwestern University Football

Winter (Temperature Range 14.3° to 34.7°)

  • Museums
  • Art Galleries
  • Opera (Lyric Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Light Opera Works)
  • Ballet (Joffrey, Hubbard Street)
  • Jazz/Blues (Birthplace of urban blues. Hundreds of clubs throughout the city)
  • Music Concerts
  • Holiday window displays on Michigan Avenue and State Street 
  • Ice Skating
  • Ice Fishing
  • Gambling at four different casinos
  • Hockey
  • Tobogganing/sledding
  • Snowmobiling
  • The Bulls, The Blackhawks
  • Conservatories (Garfield Conservatory is the largest indoor plant conservatory in the world)

Photo: "Fall in Chicago" by christopherdale / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0