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Climate of Chicago facts for kids

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Chicago from Cermak-Chinatown station
Chicago from Cermak-Chinatown station

The climate of Chicago is classified as hot-summer humid continental (Köppen: Dfa). All four seasons are distinctly represented: Winters are cold and see frequent snow and near 0 °F (−18 °C) windchill temperatures, while summers are warm and humid with temperatures being hotter inland, spring and fall bring bouts of both cool and warm weather and fairly sunny skies. Annual precipitation in Chicago is moderate and relatively evenly distributed, the driest months being January and February and the wettest July and August. Chicago's weather is influenced during all four seasons by the nearby presence of Lake Michigan.

Official Locations

The National Weather Service office in Chicago has one of the longest periods of official weather records, dating back to 1870, though all of the 1870 and 1871 weather records taken at 181 West Washington Street were lost in the Great Chicago Fire. As for the two major airports located in Chicago, Midway Airport began observations in 1928, and O'Hare Airport began observations in 1958. Both sites have served as official observation locations, with the latter being the current location where Chicago's official weather data is recorded. For Midway Airport, weather data prior to July 1, 1942 and after January 16, 1980 are not part of the official climate record of Chicago. All weather data taken at O'Hare from the beginning of observations in 1958 until January 17, 1980 are not part of the official climate record of Chicago.

Here is a list of official weather locations for the Chicago office:

Dates Location Remarks
October 15, 1870 – October 8, 1871 181 W. Washington St. All records lost due to Great Chicago Fire
October 15, 1871 – June 11, 1872 427 W. Randolph St.
June 11, 1872 – June 8, 1873 20 N. Wacker Dr.
June 8, 1873 – January 1, 1887 Roanoke Building
January 1, 1887 – February 1, 1890 Chicago Opera House
February 1, 1890 – July 1, 1905 Auditorium Tower Automatic rain gauge installed in 1897
July 1, 1905 – December 31, 1925 U.S. Court House Supplemental observations through 1970
January 1, 1926 – June 30, 1942 University of Chicago Supplemental observations through 1962
July 1, 1942 – January 16, 1980 Midway Airport Continues to provide observations
January 17, 1980—present O'Hare Airport

Note: Some of the addresses prior to 1909 are different than the post-1909 addresses


Climate data for Chicago Aurora Municipal Airport, Illinois 1981–2010 normals
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 67
Average high °F (°C) 29.1
Daily mean °F (°C) 20.8
Average low °F (°C) 12.6
Record low °F (°C) −33
Precipitation inches (mm) 1.47
Snowfall inches (cm) 10.0
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 9.7 7.8 10.4 11.8 11.2 10.2 9.3 10.0 8.9 8.9 10.2 10.7 119.1
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 6.7 4.5 2.1 0.4 0 0 0 0 0 0.1 1.2 4.9 19.9
Source: NOAA (normals, 1981–2010)


Weather chart for Chicago
temperatures in °F
precipitation totals in inches
source: NOAA


Winter in Chicago proves quite variable: Seasonal snowfall in the city has ranged from 9.8 inches (24.9 cm) (in 1920–21) up to 89.7 in (228 cm) (in 1978–79), and the average annual snowfall in Chicago is 36 inches (91 cm). Most winters produce many snow falls during the season in light accumulations of around 2 in (5.1 cm). Cities on the other side of Lake Michigan usually receive more snow than Chicago because of the lake-effect snow that falls on these communities, even though northeasterly winds can sometimes bring lake-effect snow to Chicago area too. However, every three years or so during the winter Chicago experiences a heavier snowstorm that can produce over 10 in (25 cm) of snow over a 1–3 day period, a level of snowfall very often seen in cities on the "snowbelt" on other side of the lake such as Grand Rapids, Michigan, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and South Bend, Indiana.

Winter temperatures can vary tremendously within the span of one week. The daily average high temperature in January at O'Hare is 31.0 °F (−0.6 °C) with the average daily low of 16.5 °F (−8.6 °C) and the daily mean of 23.6 °F (−4.6 °C). Temperatures drop to or below 0 °F (−18 °C) on 5.5 nights annually at Midway and 8.2 nights at O'Hare and up to 10-14 nights in some far western and northern suburbs, although subzero (°F) readings in the absence of snow cover are rare. In addition, the warming effect of Lake Michigan during the winter makes sub-zero temperatures somewhat less common on the lakefront than in the more inland parts of the city. Highs reach 50 °F (10 °C) an average of 8.8 days each winter from December to February at Midway.

Based on 30-year averages obtained from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center for the months of December, January and February, Weather Channel ranked Chicago the 6th coldest major U.S. city as of 2014.

Although it is extremely rare, temperatures during late winter (generally March 1–20) can reach up to and well over 80 °F (27 °C). In 2012, there were eight days in the month of March with temperatures 80 °F (27 °C)+ (with a ninth day occurring in many suburban areas) during the record-breaking March 2012 North American heat wave. The last couple of 80 °F (27 °C) days in this record-breaking stretch of warmth occurred after the vernal equinox.


Spring in Chicago is perhaps the city's wettest season: Winter conditions can persist well into April and even occasionally into May. Thunderstorms are especially prevalent in the spring time as the city's lakeside location makes it a center of conflicts between large volumes of warm and cold air, which can trigger a wide variety of severe weather.

On the other hand, large snowfalls can also occur in late March and in early April. For example, in 1970, over 10 in (25 cm) of snow fell in a storm that occurred on April 1–2. Twelve years later, Opening Day for the Chicago White Sox was postponed due to another 9 in (23 cm) snowfall that had occurred on April 5. Even more extraordinary, over 18 in (46 cm) of snow fell on March 25–26, 1930, which remains one of the city's five biggest recorded snowstorms despite it occurring past the vernal equinox. The average date for last measurable snowfall (≥0.1 in or 0.25 cm) is April 1.

Temperatures can vary tremendously in the springtime; at 100 °F (38 °C), March is the month with the greatest span between the record high and low. At O'Hare, temperatures as low as 7 °F (−14 °C) and 31 °F (−1 °C) have been recorded as late as April 7 and May 21, respectively. Conversely, in official records, the earliest triple-digit (100 °F or 38 °C) high occurred on June 1, 1934, when official readings were taken closer to Lake Michigan. Though rare, triple digit heat has occurred in May at Midway Airport and in outlying suburban locations. Typically, the last freezing low of the season on average occurs on April 13 at Midway and ten days later at O'Hare.

During the springtime, the effects of Lake Michigan are most prevalent. During this season, the lake is still quite cold, as the effects of much warmer temperatures are slow to affect the large body of water of Lake Michigan. It is common for Lake Michigan shoreline and water temperatures to remain in the 40s even into May. If the winds blow from the east, or from Lake Michigan into the city, a wide discrepancy in temperatures in a matter of miles can be found, especially on particularly warm days. It is not uncommon for high temperatures to be officially recorded in the lower 80s at O'Hare, Midway, and in suburban locations but to have temperatures be only in the 40s or 50s along the immediate lakeshore.


On a typical summer day, humidity is usually moderately high, and temperatures ordinarily reach anywhere between 78 and 92 °F (26 and 33 °C). Overnight temperatures in summer usually drop to around 65–70 °F (18–21 °C), although even in July and August there can be several nights where the temperature drops below 60 °F (16 °C), particularly during the cooler summers. Conversely, on the other extreme, temperatures can on a rare basis remain above 80 °F (27 °C) overnight, though this level of overnight warmth is generally limited to the city proper with its urban heat island effects along with Lake Michigan nearby. On such warm nights, especially during strong heat waves, most suburban locations drop down to between 75° and 79° but quickly rebound in the early morning hours. During such strong heat waves, the outlying suburban areas can record temperatures more than 5° above city and lakeshore locations.

A perfect example of such an occurrence happening, although considered "unofficial", occurred during the Dust Bowl years. Midway Airport recorded a record eight consecutive 100 °F-plus days in July, 1936. In that heat wave, temperatures at the lake remained in the middle and upper 90s Fahrenheit (middle 30s Celsius), whereas Midway Airport recorded temperatures over 100 °F (38 °C) for nearly two weeks, peaking at 107° on July 11. The official record high for Chicago for July 11 is also from 1936—but is recorded as just 97°. Further west in what would today be the near and far suburbs (e.g. DuPage County and westward), temperatures reached a blistering 110 °F or still higher at points during this massive heat wave. These extreme temperatures are not shown in the official records because until 1942, records were taken at the University of Chicago, which is close to the lake, which reduces temperatures in the immediate shoreline area in the summer.

Chicago's yearly precipitation comes in at an average of about 36 inches (910 mm), but during the summer, rain arises from short-lived hit-or-miss rain rather than actual prolonged rainfalls, and thunderstorms also occur with regularity at night. In a normal summer, temperatures exceed 90 °F (32 °C) on 23 days. Summer is both the rainiest and sunniest season here; only the three months of June through August experience more than 65% of possible sunshine.

In July 2012 Chicago reached and exceeded 100 °F (38 °C) for three consecutive days at O'Hare Airport with highs reaching 103 °F (39 °C) in the city and many suburban areas recording temperatures between 105 and 110 °F (41 and 43 °C). It was the first time in 65 years that Chicago had ever seen a triad of 100 °F days. Chicago nearly recorded a fourth consecutive day at or above 100 °F, but the temperature reached 98 degrees at O'Hare in late morning before a slight cool front came through the area and cooled temperatures off slightly. Despite this, many suburban areas still reached or exceeded 100 °F for a fourth consecutive day.

During the summer, Lake Michigan continues to have an effect on Chicago weather, but it is not as common or as strong as it is during the spring months. On very hot days, temperatures can still be cooler along the immediate shoreline and slightly inland of the lake if winds blow from the east. Temperatures can be held in the 70s or 80s in these areas while outlying and suburban areas temperatures are rising well into the 90s. Temperatures can also reach extreme levels of heat on the immediate shoreline, such as when the air temperature reached 105 °F (41 °C) at Northerly Island during the aforementioned July 2012 heat wave.


The extreme heat that Chicago is capable of experiencing during the height of the summer season can persist into the autumn season. Temperatures have reached 100 degrees as late as September 7 (with 99 °F or 37 °C occurring as late as September 29), and temperatures have reached the lower-to-mid 90s Fahrenheit (low 30s Celsius) as late as October 6. Conversely, temperatures have dropped below freezing overnight as early as September 23, and subzero temperatures (below −18 °C) have arrived as early as November 23. Although extremely rare, temperatures at or above 70° have been recorded into early December, most recently in 2012 when 70 °F (21 °C) was recorded on December 3, some surrounding areas reaching temperatures as high as 72 °F (22 °C) to 75 °F (24 °C).

Autumn, in some ways, is a calmer season than any of the other three in Chicago. This does not mean that wild weather can't happen. The first freeze of the season on average occurs on October 24 at Midway and 11 days earlier at O'Hare. In many years, a period of warm weather, known as an Indian summer, occurs well after the autumnal equinox has occurred. In these so-called Indian summers, unusually warm weather can persist for several days well into October and sometimes in November. For example, during the 2005 American League Division Series, for both home games between the Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox, temperatures exceeded 80 °F (27 °C), despite the fact that it was already well into October. On top of that, during the same warm stretch in October 2005, for two consecutive days the overnight temperature failed to drop below 70 °F (21 °C), an extraordinary occurrence for Chicago in early autumn.

Autumn can bring rain showers, many of which are capable of producing flooding. As the winter solstice nears, the threat of a major winter or snowstorm grows, and there have been major winter storms around the Thanksgiving holiday, causing major delays at the city's two major airports. The first measurable (≥0.1 in or 0.25 cm) snow on average falls on November 19. However, on December 20, 2012, the record for latest first measurable snowfall, besting the record of December 17, 1899. The autumn and early winter of 2012–13 did not see a daily maximum temperature below freezing 32 °F (0 °C) until early January 2013, and the entire calendar year of 2012 did not record a temperature lower than 5 °F (−15 °C). The largest snowstorm before the winter solstice dropped 14.8 inches (380 mm) at Midway Airport in December 1929.

During the autumn, the effects of Lake Michigan are usually reversed from the spring or summer, particularly in the late autumn. Temperatures near the immediate lakeshore can be a few degrees warmer than in outlying areas, especially during nighttime due to the delayed effects of cooler temperatures on the large body of water. It is rare, though possible, during the Indian summer when unusually warm temperatures are occurring in the inland areas of the city and suburbs for temperatures to be somewhat cooler along the lake as often happens during the spring season.


The highest temperature ever recorded in the Chicago city limits is an unofficial 109 °F (43 °C) on July 24, 1934, at Midway Airport. The official reading of 105 °F (41 °C) for that day was taken at the University of Chicago campus near the shoreline off Lake Michigan. The 105° high that day is the highest official temperature ever recorded in the city. On July 29, 1916, the low temperature sank to only 85 °F (29 °C).

Readings near the lake can be several degrees cooler than inland locations if lake breezes are present, which suggests that the higher unofficial reading may also be accurate. During the Chicago Heat Wave of 1995, official temperatures reached 104 °F (40 °C) at O'Hare Airport and 106 °F (41 °C) at Midway, but high humidity pushed the heat index to 15–20 °F (8–11 °C) above actual air temperatures. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Chicago city limits is −27 °F (−33 °C) at O'Hare on January 20, 1985, though unofficial temperatures as low as −33 °F (−36 °C) have been recorded at Chicago Aurora Airport in far western suburbs and in the rural areas to the west of Chicago. On December 24, 1983, and January 18, 1994, the high temperature reached only −11 °F (−24 °C).

The greatest 24-hour precipitation was 6.86 in (174.2 mm) at O'Hare on July 23, 2011, while the heaviest 24-hour snowfall was 18.6 in (47.2 cm), again at O'Hare, on January 2, 1999. Daily snow depth has amassed as high as 29 in (74 cm) on January 14, 1979; as of 2016, January 1979 alone holds 8 of the top 10 daily snow depth measurements.

Windy City

Chicago is known as the Windy City. The "Windy City" moniker did not originally refer to Chicago's climate. It is believed to have been created by a New York newspaper writer deriding Chicagoans' bluster as they promoted their city as the site of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. In terms of climate, Chicago is slightly windier than the average American city. Average wind speeds range from 8 miles per hour (13 km/h) in late summer to 12 miles per hour (19 km/h) in spring months.

Lake breeze

Chicago can be cooler and moister than other parts of Illinois because of its proximity to the relatively cooler waters of Lake Michigan, effects which are most pronounced during spring and early summer. A frequent lakeshore breeze pushes much cooler, moister air into Chicago than the usual hot air of the Plains States (usually a moist air mass depending on upper level circulation), but the effect can be so localized that only the immediate waterfront neighborhoods (both north and southside lake adjacent communities) are cooler than inland parts of the city. South, west and southwestern suburbs can be more than 20 °F (11 °C) warmer than the lakefront at some times of year. The lake breeze also has other effects, including dense fog spilling into the city. Because of the closed-loop circulation pattern with a lake breeze that moves back and forth across the city, it is thought to significantly increase low-level ozone counts. Differing wind direction on either side of the thermal dividing line allows for sharp updrafts under certain conditions, favorable to thunderstorm development. Offshore or land breezes shutdown the lake breeze and can have the opposite effect, with over lake convection occurring, usually in mid-late summer and autumn. As a general rule, the opposite trend occurs during the winter—winter temperatures are warmer along the lakeshore and downtown than inland.

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