A Case for Chicago Winters

Chicago skyline against a light blue sky and snow on the ground

Chicago skyline against a light blue sky and snow on the ground

“Winter came and the city turned monochrome — black trees against gray sky above white earth. Night now fell in midafternoon, especially when the snowstorms rolled in, boundless prairie storms that set the sky close to the ground, the city lights reflected against the clouds.”

— President Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

At Otherwise, one of our greatest strengths lies in illuminating beauty where others struggle to find it. Today’s challenge: Chicago winters. When I moved to Chicago three years ago in March, I heard time and time again from new colleagues, friends, grocery store clerks and Uber drivers, “Just wait until summer! Chicago summers are the best, there’s nothing like it.” And while that may be true — summers in the city are undeniably sweet — there’s something to be said for winter in Chicago.

Born and raised in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I’m no stranger to harsh, unpredictable and unrelenting Midwest winters. In rural Michigan, however, outdoor activities abound to help us enjoy the winter months. I grew up skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, building igloos, and starting snowball fights. Our snow pants never had a chance to fully dry, and our noses were perennially red and runny. Things are a bit different in a much larger city that’s generally quite flat, but every year I’m pleasantly surprised by how city dwellers make the most of winter.

Chicagoans are proud people, and we’re made of tough stuff. We don’t let frozen sidewalks and frigid temps stop us from taking advantage of all that this city has to offer. And when we’ve trudged through enough slush for one year, we’re rewarded with yet another infamous, whirlwind Chicago summer. But rather than viewing this season as an obstacle to overcome, let’s shift our perspective.

Go ice skating through Maggie Daley Park. Sled down Cricket Hill while taking in views of a frozen Lake Michigan. Soak up some serotonin at the Garfield Park Conservatory. Visit the cold-weather animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Warm up with a cup of gourmet hot cocoa. Get lost in one of the city’s many museums. Bundle up and explore a new neighborhood. Expand your houseplant collection with the help of a local plant shop. Go for a morning run along the Lakefront Trail. Work your way through your reading list and support independent bookstores, or check out a book at the library. Build a snowman when the snow finally sticks, and help your neighbor shovel out their car (we might be tough, but we’re still Midwesterners).

Chicago winters are cold, dark and grey — there’s no denying it. But if we stay present, get a little creative and bundle up, winter can be a time to look forward to, rather than a time to simply get through. After all, we’re as lucky to call Chicago home in January as we are in June.

There are several warming centers throughout Chicago for when temperatures are at or below 32 degrees, as well as advocacy and support organizations that provide resources for those in need, such as the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.