OPINION: Chicago winters bring fun and tranquility, not misery


Samantha Moilanen

A winter storm in Wrigleyville, Chicago on Feb. 2, 2022.

As temperatures begin to drop and jackets come out, veteran Chicagoans begin to look towards another cold winter, with many dreading the upcoming season. The winters in Chicago are tougher than many, with Lake Michigan helping to push freezing cold winds through narrow Chicago streets and alleyways. 

Despite challenging weather, Chicago winters get a bad name. As cold weather brings in snow and winds, winter-specific natural blessings reveal themselves. Walking along the lakeside during a snowstorm, or even just sitting out in a field or park, simplifies life and mind to just think about warmth, and the white beauty that surrounds them. 

Do not underestimate the beauty of Lake Michigan during mid-winter. If the lake freezes, one can gaze out at what looks to be an arctic-like tundra. While the lake is not frozen, large ice blocks float seamlessly through the cold water. 

On some beaches in Chicagoland, such as Rosewood Beach in Highland Park, about 40 minutes north of Lincoln Park, the freezing winter winds propel the icy waves over flood barriers and freeze water mid-air. The aftermath of these waves can create vast forests of icicles on nearby trees, and most shockingly, small ice caves. 

Snow creates a certain calm, serenity. As the skies and grounds white out, stimuli lessen. Instead of dense, humid heat on a walk to work, the type of heat that tends to make one mad, Chicagoans can learn to, or continue to, enjoy this calmness. 

“I will just lie down in the snow, all bundled up, and look at the sky,” Mia Cutler said, a resident of Chicago’s northern suburbs for over 25 years. “I love walking outside in the winter and taking my dog to the dog park. I tend to spend more time outdoors in the winter, than the summer.” 

Michael Breen, who has lived in Bucktown for eight years, agrees with the calm the winter winds bring to Chicago.

“The city feels safer at that time,” he said. 

On top of a seasonal serenity, winters in Chicago bring new activities. Sledding at Soldier Field’s 35 foot sledding hill, ice skating through Maggie Daley Park’s amazing skating ribbon and making snowmen bring out the child in all. 

During Christmas, Chicago opens its famous Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza, which combines holiday trinket shopping with traditional German cuisine. If one can brave the long lines that are characteristic of this Chicago staple, it is a winter must. 

While many consider Chicago’s winters to be arctic-like, average temperatures often do not reflect this.

According to weather.gov, the average temperature during Chicago’s 2021-2022 winter (December-February) was 28.7 degrees, with a cumulative snowfall of twenty-eight inches Since the beginning of their data collection on average Chicago winter temperatures, they report that the average winter temperature has been 26.4 degrees, with an average snowfall of 29.6 inches.

Along with higher temperatures than many imagine, Chicago’s most challenging season does not compare with other areas of the United States, such as California and Florida. Both states are believed to have attractive weather, despite the natural disasters that occur. 

California  has to contend with an extremely destructive and violent yearly forest fire season. During the 2021 fire season in California, almost 3 million acres were burned, destroying 3,560 structures, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

With the city of Chicago being just 145,300 acres, California’s 2021 fires could completely burn Chicago 20 times over. 

Florida, another state many consider worthy of jealousy as it pertains to their weather, has their own extremely destructive weather phenomenon to deal with: hurricanes. In 2018, category five Hurricane Michael killed 43 Floridians and caused $18.4 billion in damages, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric’s (NOAA) Tropical Cyclone Report

Despite Chicago’s reputation as a city with “bad weather,” the extremes of Chicago winters do not come close to the weather challenges faced by other U.S. communities on a yearly basis.

All this is not to say that winter is an easy time for many Chicagoans. Driving on icy and snowy Chicago streets is challenging. When temperatures do ultimately get very low into the single digits, waiting for buses and CTA trains above-ground can be a shivering endeavor.

Despite all of this, Chicago winters should be a time more celebrated than dreaded. If one prepares well, opportunity for fun and tranquility outweighs the shivers the winter season brings to the City. 

“It’s what makes us tough,” Breen said. “For those who can find a way to enjoy a Chicago winter, they get to call themselves true residents of the city!”