How to Survive Chicago in the Winter

by Wendy Miller | Jan 2, 2023 | Chicago, Exploring Chicago

If you’re planning to move to Chicago, those rumored winters might strike fear into your heart. But don’t worry. Our essential tips for surviving Chicago’s frigid weather will keep you toasty and help you to enjoy your first Chicago winter as much as possible.

Related: Things to Know About Chicago Apartment Brokers

How Cold Does Chicago Get?

Chicago is famous for freezing winters. While it has warmed up about three degrees since 1970, Chicago in the winter still gets approximately 28 inches of snow and experiences an average temperature of about 26 degrees coupled with wind chills that often dip down into negative numbers.

You can thank Lake Michigan for keeping the winters from being even colder. Lake Michigan gives Chicago relatively cooler summers and warmer winters. Still, when the frigid temps, the occasional lake effect snow, and the arctic winds from Santa’s neck of woods swoop in, you might mistake it for Alaska.

What Is Lake Effect Snow?

Lake effect snow results from cold air moving over warm water — Lake Michigan in this case. Clouds form, grow dense with moisture, snow falls, and next thing you know, you see heavy yet narrow bands of snow. Lake effect snow can drop 2-3 inches of snow per hour, while just a mile away, the sun’s shining with no snowflakes in sight. However, most lake effect snow occurs on the eastern and southern side of Lake Michigan, meaning that Chicago receives far less of it (thankfully).

Tips for Surviving Chicago Winters

Note: The list below was inspired by the exceptional one provided by Clayton Guse over at TimeOut. For additional suggestions, check out what he says about winter-proofing your life.

1. Dress in Layers

One of the biggest mistakes newbies to Chicago make is focusing on insulated, thick clothing. That plays a role, but you need layers. Chicago in the winter requires at least three layers. Think T-shirt under a sweatshirt beneath a warm coat. Top it off with a balaclava or hood for your head, thermal underwear under jeans or pants, and warm, thick socks in warm shoes.

2. Slather on the Heavy Duty Moisturizer

Winter air is dry air. This is especially noticeable if you move to Chicago from a humid region such as Florida. Low humidity can quickly lead to cracked hands, chapped lips, and dry, itchy skin. Slather on moisturizer immediately after stepping out of the shower or bath and whenever necessary to keep your skin soft, smooth, and moisture-drenched. Also, ditch that thin, lightweight stuff for the rest of winter; it won’t do the job in this weather. Look for lotions with cocoa butter, shea butter, and other ingredients with serious moisturizing power.

3. If You’re in the Loop, Make the Pedway System Your Best Friend

You probably know about public transportation in Chicago: the buses and the El train. What you might not know about is the Pedway, a system of underground routes beneath Chicago’s Loop that allows you to travel between CTA stations, the Aon Center, City Hall, and other locations without touching a toe to the snow and slush above ground.

4. Use the City’s Snow Plow Tracking App to Plan Your Routes

Chicago offers an open-source map that shows you where the snow plows are in real-time. This makes it easier to plan your route to work, the store, or anywhere else you need to go. The app also shows where the salt spreaders are. Whether in a car, on foot, or on a bike, this app can mean not getting stuck in a foot or three of snow when you need to brave the elements.

5. Keep an Emergency Kit in Your Car

In this kit, you will need to include an ice scraper and brush for clearing snow off your windows, kitty litter, and a shovel. No, you’re not turning your car into a portable litter box. The kitty litter and shovel will help you if you get stuck in the snow. Remove as much snow as possible from around the tires using the shovel, then sprinkle kitty litter in front of the driving tires. It may require rocking back and forth, but the kitty litter should help you gain enough traction to get unstuck.

Additionally, throw in a few emergency blankets. A few extra water bottles won’t hurt either in case you get stuck on the side of the road for any length of time. Plus, if you drive a truck that struggles with traction, weight the bed down with sand bags.

6. Invest in Hand Warmers

Hand warmers can be your best friend in the frigid Chicago winter. Stuffed into gloves, mittens, or coat pockets, they give off heat that makes your hands feel toasty. But, don’t just use them on your hands. Stick them in your shoes, a shirt or pants pocket, or anywhere else you want to keep warm.

7. Insulate Your Windows

If you move to Chicago during the other three seasons, you may choose a home or apartment with big windows that offer gorgeous views. But those stunning views come with a trade-off: the windows can become drafty and let in lots of cold air. You can quickly resolve this problem by heading to the nearest hardware store and getting foam to line the cracks of doors and windows. Add some insulation kits, too, and don’t worry. You only need a hairdryer to make the plastic fit.

8. Up Your Vitamin D Intake

With the shorter days, and the desire to stay inside even when the sun is shining, your Vitamin D production will likely take a drastic dive in the winter months. Take a Vitamin D supplement or eat lots of Vitamin D-rich foods, like yogurt, eggs, cheese, and tuna.

9. Pack Hot Lunches From Home to Save Money, Time, and Body Heat

A cold sandwich might become less craveworthy than soup in January, and a takeout hot lunch from a restaurant will no longer let off any steam by the time you trudge back to the office. Instead, pack a hot lunch from home. Throw soup, stew, chili, mac and cheese, or a casserole in a thermos or heated lunch box. No thermos or lunch box? If you have a microwave at work, you’ll still feel much warmer walking to the break room microwave than the diner down the street.

10. Get Some Warm, Walkable Boots

Even if you plan to drive most of the time, you’ll still do plenty of winter walking through wet, slushy, and slippery terrain. And, that walking will be a lot easier (and less painful) if you have sturdy winter boots that are both warm and comfortable. Look for boots with good traction for walking on snow or ice. Your feet will be safer and warmer if they contain faux fur, shearling, or another lining.

11. Embrace Your Hot Drink Addiction, or Develop One

Water is essential, but cold water is the last thing you want when facing a subzero day in Chicago in the winter. So, embrace your coffee habit. Not a coffee lover? Whether your favorite hot beverage is coffee, tea, hot cocoa, spiced apple cider (best spiked with bourbon, of course), a traditional hot toddy, or mulled wine, hot drinks will warm you up from the inside and feel like a comforting hug, morning or night. 

Related: An Inside Look at the Chicago Rental Market

Why not warm up with some weekend dim sum this winter? It will keep you indoors and your belly warm and full.

Moving this Winter? AptAmigo Can Help.

We can’t beat around the bush on this one. Chicago in the winter is bitter cold, but the snow can be pretty sometimes, and the holiday events and comfort food give it a certain charm. Plus, did you know that you can get better deals on rent during the winter months? We call them concessions, and we know how to find them.

In fact, we help people find apartments all year long, so whether you’re moving to Chicago this winter or planning for your summer move, we can help. Reach out today so you can find your dream apartment.

About Us

AptAmigo has a simple goal: to make finding an apartment easy and maybe even a little fun. With concierge-level care and an expert understanding of the local rental market, we’re more than your average apartment website. We’re perfecting done-for-you apartment searching, and we’re doing it all for free. Reach out to us today and start your VIP apartment search.

Related Posts:
Chicago Apartment Spotlight: The Reed Apartments

Chicago Apartment Spotlight: The Reed Apartments

One of the newest additions to Printer’s Row, The Reed brings 41 floors of elegance and luxury to the heart of this historic Chicago neighborhood. Opened in 2023 as part of the Southbank Project, this community contributes to the developer’s vision of an “inclusive and sustainable neighborhood” in the 7 acres surrounding Southbank Park. 

read more
Chicago Apartment Spotlight: Sentral Michigan Avenue

Chicago Apartment Spotlight: Sentral Michigan Avenue

Sentral Michigan Avenue invites you to “experience the heart of vibrant Chicago” as a resident of this ideally located building. Views of Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago place this urban landscape at your fingertips, and a design that blends industrial and natural textures with modern geometric patterns creates an upscale metropolitan vibe throughout the building. 

read more
Chicago Apartment Spotlight: Sage West Loop

Chicago Apartment Spotlight: Sage West Loop

Sage West Loop describes itself as a “boutique high-rise” where you can “find all the elements for a life well-lived” in the thriving West Loop neighborhood, located a short walk away from Greektown and the University of Illinois Chicago. With a semi-industrial feel that matches the neighborhood’s history, this building balances loft-like, concrete ceilings and pillars with warmer, light-colored wood flooring and cabinets. Luxury rooftop amenities with striking city views entice residents into the welcoming, but urban spaces that define the West Loop lifestyle.

read more
Chicago Apartment Spotlight: 1001 S State

Chicago Apartment Spotlight: 1001 S State

1001 S State gives residents access to “ trendsetting amenities that blend style with technology” and “scene-stealing views of Chicago’s skyline” in a neighborhood close to many of the city’s biggest attractions. High-rise living close to public transportation means that residents can take advantage of Chicago’s urban lifestyle and rich culture.

read more

About Us

AptAmigo has a simple goal: to make finding an apartment easy and maybe even a little fun. With concierge-level care and an expert understanding of the local rental market, we’re more than your average apartment website. We’re perfecting done-for-you apartment searching, and we’re doing it all for free. Reach out to us today and start your VIP apartment search.