The Honest Guide to Chicago Weather (2024)

So you’ve decided to visit Chicago...

Congratulations on being a really cool and smart person. We like you, so we’re going to help you out. You see, no matter when you visit Chicago, you’re going to need to prepare for Chicago weather. Relax, it’s not as bad as people say.

Ok, fine, it’s only sometimes as bad as people say. Read this guide, take our advice, and you’ll be more than prepared for whatever our city’s unpredictable weather decides to throw your way.

Why should you listen to us?

You've probably heard people say that if you don’t like the weather in Chicago, wait 15 minutes. Well, this is absolutely true, and we can prove it! When it comes to weather, we’ve seen it all from 94 floors above the city at 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck. And now, we're here to share everything you need to know about visiting our beautiful, cold, windy, city.

First things first...

The Lake Effect

Being located close to Lake Michigan means getting used to its ever-changing weather patterns. Ask any Chicagoan: the weather by the lake is significantly different than in more inland neighborhoods in several ways:

  • It’s colder — Take a look at your weather app and subtract 5-10° if you’re close to the lake. When in doubt, bring a coat.
  • It’s windier — Chicago’s famous winds make the lakefront refreshingly pleasant during the city’s hottest months and a frigid nightmare during winter.
  • There's more precipitation — Being near the lake means more rain, snow, and everything in between.
  • There’s also more fog — Low clouds form more often by the lake. Thankfully, Chicago’s aforementioned wind means it usually moves fast.

The Real Chicago Weather Calendar

Winter I

Late October – December

Definition: Milder phase of winter when the snow hasn't yet transformed into a semi-permanent gray slush.

Chance of snow: 97%

You can expect the first snow of the year to come sometime in November, although it occasionally arrives earlier. It's the one time all year where Chicagoans might be exited to see the cold white stuff. Then we realize there are six more months of it ahead and our brief moment of childlike joy is replaced with existential dread.

If, while being pelted in the face with snow and ice, you want to say it's still Fall just because it isn't December 22nd, be our guest. But you're only lying to yourself.

Chicago Winter Essentials

  • Snow boots— If you're going to be spending any significant amount of time in Chicago during winter, you need to buy waterproof snow boots immediately. They're perfect for when you step on what looks like a pile of snow but is actually a foot-deep mini lake of half-frozen slush. Thank us later.
  • Insulated coat — You don't need to go spend a month's rent on Canada Goose (although, if you can, good for you), but you're going to need a coat that can withstand the wind. This isn't a fashion blog, but we'd advise choosing function over style anyway. The North Face is located on the first floor of the Hanco*ck and has plenty of options to choose from.
  • Gloves— Get some good ones. More importantly, don't take them off to scroll. Once your fingers freeze, they won't warm up very quickly.
  • Face mask — We were into face masks before they were a thing. Protect your neck all the way up to your ears with a thermal face covering.

Winter II

January Late March


The Honest Guide to Chicago Weather (2)

Chance of snow: 100%

This is usually when Chicago is at its coldest and snowiest. Ever heard of a Polar Vortex? Those happen during Winter II. Wear layers and try not to stay outside for too long. Come upstairs for a beer or coffee and hibernate like the rest of us.

Lake Michigan is also known to freeze over during this second, more intense phase of winter. The ice may look sturdy, but you should never try to walk on it for... reasons.

Rainy Season

Late March – Early May

Definition: Seattle, but colder.

Chance of snow: 46%

Also known as Foggy Season. Commonly referred to as “Spring” elsewhere in the country, this dreary period brings Chicago's most grey and gloomy weather. Plenty of rain, fog, and overcast skies dominate the post-winter, pre-spring climate.

If you want to see what the Chicago skyline looks like above the clouds, this is the time of year when you just might catch some low fog drifting off the lake. Seeing it from the 94th floor is a sight to behold.

Special Category: Spring Mirage

Every March, there's an unseasonably warm day that unfairly teases Chicagoans into thinking spring has arrived. It has not. A short time after this spring mirage, temperatures return to the norm and we go back to huddling under the warming lamps on the CTA like weird little bugs.

The Honest Guide to Chicago Weather (3)

An actual Chicago weather forecast... in March


Last Two Weeks of May

Definition: An almost non-existent season where temperatures are briefly between freezing and hot.

Chance of snow: 8%

If you haven't figured it out by now, let us be very clear: The shoulder months don't really exist in Chicago. Our short spring season usually occurs for a couple weeks right before summer. We're defining spring as any time where there is a week or more of temperatures above 65 degrees.

This is the time of year when it's finally comfortable enough to wear shorts, although real Chicagoans start wearing shorts the first time it gets above freezing.

The Honest Guide to Chicago Weather (4)

How Chicago joggers dress any time it's above 50ºF


June – Mid September

Definition: The best time to visit Chicago and the season that makes living here tolerable.

Chance of snow: 2%

Chicago summer is... amazing. Our city’s weather somewhat justifiably gets a bad rep (see above), but if you get a chance to visit in the summer, don’t hesitate. Book those tickets right now!

Summer in Chicago is so pleasant it gives Chicagoans Winter Amnesia. The city’s 24 beaches are full from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Play volleyball, ride your bike, or just catch some rays next to Lake Michigan. It could be 99° and still feel pleasant thanks to the wind.

The Honest Guide to Chicago Weather (5)

Oak Street Beach, as seen from 360 CHICAGO


Mid September – Late October

Definition: Short season where you'll need to check your weather app daily to decide if you need a coat or not.

Chance of snow: 38%

The other mini shoulder month in Chicago lasts barely long enough for you to finish your Pumpkin Spice Latte. You'll no doubt be torn between wearing short sleeves or your winter coat, probably within a three-day period. On the bright side, watching the leaves change colors from the 94th floor is beautiful.

Special Category: Halloween

As a general rule, the weather on Halloween is miserable. There’s no particular rhyme or reason for it, but it’s either going to be cold or rainy. You’re going to need some sort of coat. Unless you are an adult in Wrigleyville. Alcohol is your coat.

What have we learned?

  • The weather by Lake Michigan is way different than anywhere else in Chicago.
  • There are 2 winters in Chicago. Prepare for both with the right cold weather gear.
  • Spring and Fall are really short. The term "light jacket" doesn't exist in Chicago.
  • Summers in Chicago are highly underrated and will make you want to move here.
  • Choose a Halloween costume that involves layers

You can see all of our city's crazy, beautiful weather from 1,030 feet above Chicago at 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck. Sometimes in the span of 15 minutes.

Want to know what Chicago weather is like right now? Slide into our DMs. Follow us @360chicago on Instagram.

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The Honest Guide to Chicago Weather (2024)


How common is fog in Chicago? ›

Dense fog is most prevalent in the Midwest from October through March in the hours between midnight and mid-morning. Fog shrouding Lake Michigan spills over the Chicago Lakefront. Fog is a common occurrence throughout the Midwest.

What season is June in Chicago? ›

Lying just to the southwest of Lake Michigan in the state of Illinois, Chicago has a humid continental climate with cold winters and hot summers. June marks the start of summer in the city, with warm temperatures making this the perfect time of year for exploring the city.

Does Chicago have all four seasons? ›

The climate of Chicago has several unique features including: Four distinct seasons, each with different conditions. An urban heat island. Influence of Lake Michigan (lake breeze and lake-effect snow)

What is the weather like in Chicago in general? ›

Chicago's climate is typically continental with cold winters, warm summers, and frequent short fluctuations in temperature, humidity, cloudiness, and wind direction.

What is the most foggy city in the US? ›

Cape Disappointment located in the extreme southwestern corner of Washington State retains over three months of fog, roughly 165 days per year.

What state has the worst fog? ›

According to most sources, the Grand Banks of New Brunswick are considered by most to be the foggiest place on earth, with an average of 200 or more days spent in the fog each year.

What is the rainiest month in Chicago? ›

The driest month in Chicago is February with 1.63 inches of precipitation, and with 4.62 inches August is the wettest month.

Has it ever snowed in June in Chicago? ›

Since the start of the city's snow records in 1884-85, snow has been recorded only once in June and that was on June 2, 1910. It was a chilly day with a high of 55 and a low of 43 and a thunderstorm (probably during the early morning hours) brought a mixture of rain, hail, and snow pellets.

Is Michigan colder than Chicago? ›

It depends on the day. On a cold, windy day in either city both will claim to be the coldest but the difference is not great. A strong wind and a high wind chill factor will make the difference even if both cities have the same temperature. At that point the windiest would be considered colder.

What is the most humid month in Chicago? ›

The average humidity level in Chicago for the whole year, over time, is 70%. December is the most humid month on average with an 82% humidity level and April being the lowest average humidity with the humidity in April averaging around 50%.

Is Chicago a good city to live in? ›

Yes! There are plenty of job opportunities, and the housing costs are less than many coastal cities. You also have access to all kinds of cultural activities, the food scene is thriving, and there's always something to do. Q: What are the pros of living in Chicago?

What is Chicago's coldest month? ›

On average, January is Chicago's coldest month, but it's not necessarily the coldest month in any given winter. Long-term temperature averages at Midway Airport (1929-2011) rank January as the city's coldest month with 23.9 degrees followed by February at 27.9 degrees and December at 28.9.

Why is Chicago called the windy city? ›

Chicago is infamous for its strong and blustery winds. Chicago's unique meteorological conditions and urban structure contribute to its reputation as the “Windy City.” Structurally, the city's location on Lake Michigan plays a pivotal role.

What are the windy months in Chicago? ›

Winter (December, January, February) and spring (March, April, May) are Chicago's windiest seasons, with spring being slightly windier. Spring's average wind speed is 11.7 mph; winter's average is 11.5 mph. You are correct that it usually feels windier in the winter because it is much colder.

What is the most common fog in Illinois? ›

Radiation fog

The most common cause of fog in Illinois is when there is a lot of moisture in the air on a clear, calm night. This creates what is known as radiation fog. When you hear the word radiation, I hope your thoughts don't only go to atomic bombs or superheroes.

Why is it so foggy in Illinois? ›

"Warm air, moist air blows in from the south and if there is snow or cool moisture on the ground it will come in contact with the warm, moist winds," the NWS reports. "This contact between the air and ground will cause the air blowing in to become cool. Then dew point rises and creates high humidity and forms fog."

Where is fog most common? ›

The most favored areas for fog development are sheltered valleys where there is little to no wind and locations near bodies of water.

How often is it cloudy in Chicago? ›

Cloudiness in Illinois
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