I moved to Chicago on March 1st, 2019, catching the last glimpse of what was famously dubbed the “Polar Vortex”. My London friends would stare at those spectacular pictures emerging from the Midwest, giggling while forecasting my imminent inevitable defeat: “ Mate, you’ll never survive a Chicago winter! ”
I was completely unprepared when I first moved to Illinois: thinking the cold season was almost over and that I would be better off buying proper winter gear in summer to save some bucks, I showed up wearing my trusted London jacket, my flat British cap and my trademarked worn-out Converse All Star.
Walking around downtown with temperatures hovering around +7°F / -14°C (or even colder considering the wind chill factor), was anything but fun.
Fast forward five years, and armed with much better outdoor gear, Chicago’s winter has not claimed me yet. In fact, despite my notorious aversion to snow , I now eagerly anticipate the frosty embrace of January and February when you can walk down the Chicago river or venture even further to the shoreline of Lake Michigan to see those mind-blowing unreal ice formations. And, as if you stepped into a dystopian dimension, a different planet, you can’t stop from marveling at the enchanting landscape – a true winter wonderland.
And, just as I loved sipping a reassuring warm ale at the pub on one of those unassuming, quiet London rainy nights, I now appreciate the romantic, nostalgic feeling of entering a neighborhood tavern and warming up to the familiar bittersweet taste of a perfectly crafted old fashioned, while gazing out snow-kissed windows.
Only love, Chicago.
So in a world of snowYou Must Believe in Spring – M. Legrand, A. Bergman, M. Bergman
Of things that come and go
Where what you think you know
You can’t be certain of
You must believe in spring and love
How to survive a winter in Chicago
While the bone-chilling cold rarely arrives before mid-December or lingers past late February, Chicago winters defy the calendar. You might experience some inches of snowfall as early as late October and as late as mid-May. In short: postpone your seasonal wardrobe change.
While the winters following the one that welcomed me to the Windy City have always been slightly milder, you can expect at least a few brutally cold weeks (when Chicago is, rightly so, renamed Chi-beria) between January and February. I guess it is Chicago’s way of wishing you a happy new year, but as I have said, these days are worth the pain: it is when the river and the lake freeze and the magic unfolds. All you need to do is dress accordingly. Here some tips:
Layer Up Like an Onion.
Literally! Embrace the art of layering. Start with thermal long-sleeved shirts, which you can find at bargain prices. Don’t underestimate the power of long johns – they may sound inelegant but they’re essential for those brisk winter walks or bike rides (yes, I bike in winter) along the lakefront.
Invest in a good Jacket
While many Chicagoans sport Canada Goose jackets, they come with a hefty price tag. I opted for the KUHL Arktik Down Parka, and I couldn’t be happier (or warmer). Look for a jacket with certified 800-fill goose down insulation to fend off misery and frostbite.
although most of the time the streets are dry and clear of snow and ice, especially in downtown, keeping your feet warm and dry is half the battle.
Keep your head warm
Chicagoans often don head-back foldable earmuffs, but you can also rock headphones as a more fashionable alternative. Pair them with a cozy wool hat, gloves or mittens, and a thick scarf for extra warmth.
Navigating the Streets
Despite occasional heavy snowfall, the streets – especially downtown – are usually clear to the point you can even brave the cold on a bike if you feel like. Just be cautious of falling ice blocks from tall skyscrapers. Look up, and heed the signs reminding you to do so. Personally, I don’t own a car (you don’t really need one in Chicago) so my carpooling service bills do spike during winter. It’s a trade-off, but the convenience is worth it. Unless you are ok, to go for example on a date or to a dance party dressed as if you were going to ski (both of which I did).