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Chicago Climate

Chicago has a humid continental climate (Köppen Dfa), with four seasons: cold, windy, snowy winters; mild springs; hot, humid summers; and crisp and relatively short autumns.

Precipitation reaches its lowest in January and February and peaks in summer and latter half of spring.

Seasons

Winter

Winter in Chicago proves variable and fickle, but even in mild winters one will experience bouts of cold weather. The average Chicago winter produces 38.0 inches (94 cm) of snow. This is just an average; Chicago winters have produced between 9.8 and 89.7 inches (25 cm and 221 cm) of snow. Snow tends to fall in light accumulations of around 2 inches (5 cm), but about once every three years Chicago experiences a storm that can produce 10 or more inches (25 cm to 35 cm) of snow over a 1-3 day period. Unlike across Lake Michigan in western Michigan or in northern Indiana, Chicago rarely gets lake-effect snow because prevailing westerlies that cross the region pick up moisture from Lake Michigan after passing Chicago. Rare northeasterly winds during the winter may deposit the sort of snowfall that one associates with nearby snowbelt cities such as Grand Rapids, Michigan, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and South Bend, Indiana with the more usual westerly winds. Temperatures can vary wildly within the span of one week, but extended periods of temperatures below 32°F (0°C) are not uncommon in January and February. The temperature in January averages about 29°F (-2°C) in the afternoon, and 14°F (-10°C) at night. Temperatures can be expected to drop below 0°F (-18°C) on 15 days throughout the winter season. Although not common, temperatures in Chicago even in the middle of winter can surpass 50°F (10°C).

Summer

On a typical summer day, humidity is usually moderately high and temperatures ordinarily reach anywhere between 78°F and 92°F (26°C to 33°C). Overnight temperatures in summer usually drop to around 65°F (18°C), but can sometimes remain well above 70°F (21°C). Yearly precipitation comes in at an average of about 36 inches (920 mm). Summer in Chicago is prone to thunderstorms, and summer rain arises from short-lived hit-or-miss storms rather than prolonged rainfalls. In a normal summer, temperatures exceed 90°F (32°C) on 17 days. Contrary to what one might think, summer is actually the rainiest season in Chicago. In a curious shift, July was actually the wettest average month in Chicago from when records were started in 1871 until 1965. In 1965, August inexplicably overtook July as the wettest month, and it remains wetter than July to this day.

Temperature Extremes

The highest temperature ever recorded in Chicago is an unofficial 109°F (44°C) on July 23, 1934 at Midway airport. Official reading then were taken at the University of Chicago Campus on the lake shore. Readings near the lake can be several degrees cooler than inland locations if lake breezes are present. The highest official temperature ever recorded is 105°F (41°C) also on July 23 1934. During the Chicago Heat Wave temperatures reached 104°F officially at O'Hare and 106°F at Midway, but intense humidity produced a heat index of 125°F. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Chicago is -27°F (-33°C) on January 20, 1985, with a wind chill of -83°F (-64°C). On December 24, 1983, the high temperature at Chicago reached only -11°F (-23°C), and on July 30, 1916, the low temperature sank to only 84°F (29°C), both of which are records.

Moniker


Although Chicago is known as the Windy City, it is not significantly breezier than other American cities. Average wind speeds range from 8 mph (13 km/h) in late summer to 12 mph (19 km/h) in spring months. Until recently, the "Windy City" moniker was believed to be a derisive reference to Chicago's politicians, coined in a New York newspaper editorial in 1890. New research by OED consultant Barry Popik has shown that the term actually appeared in print several years before the New York editorial. The phrase may have been created by Chicago tourism boosters attempting to promote the city, cooled by breezes off Lake Michigan, as an ideal summer destination. Note that the Windy City nickname has its own Wikipedia page, which states: "The term "Windy City" is often erroneously claimed to have been first used by The Sun editor, Charles Dana, in the bidding for the 1893 Columbian Exposition." Robie House tour guides suggest that this was because the city's officials were clamoring so loudly to be the location of the World's Fair.

Chicago experiences microclimatic effects because of Lake Michigan, especially during the summer. Very often during the summer a local lakeshore breeze pulls much cooler air into Chicago than the usual hot air of the Plains States, but the effect may be so local that only the immediate shoreline is much cooler than parts of the city further inland.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Chicago falls within Plant Hardiness Zone 5b, with the outlying areas falling into the sightly harsher Zone 5a.[4] The Arbor Day Foundation has issued an updated plant hardiness zone map that places the lakefront and southern suburbs into the upper reaches of Zone 6.
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