Seven Ways to Prepare for a Chicago Winter

If you’re a recent transplant or considering moving to Chicago, the thought of winter is probably hanging in the back of your mind like a dark cloud. Chicago winters can be beautiful, but they can also be extremely cold.

Understanding Chicago Weather
Chicago winters can be much colder than other areas of the United States because of what’s called the Lake Effect. When cold air moves over a warm body of water, like a lake, water vapor rises into the cold mass and freezes and is then sent back down wind. This, added to the local wind chill factor, makes Chicago winters some of the coldest in the nation. But the winter doesn’t have to be miserable; there are ways to survive it and even enjoy it.

Stay Happy When You Stay Inside
Obviously, many people choose to stay indoors through the whole winter. While that’s plausible, it’ll definitely leave you feeling a bit cooped up and stir-crazy. Try to get outside when the weather isn’t debilitating, like on sunny days. If you do want to stay inside, you might want to invest in a light box and a bottle of vitamin D. Light boxes mimic natural sunlight and are often recommended to people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Even if you don’t have SAD, a light box helps give you energy and boosts your mood, even if you only use it for 20 minutes a day.

Get Your Home Ready for Winter Weather
Prepare your home for winter weather, too. Ready your heating system in early fall before the winter chill hits. There’s nothing worse than waiting on a repair man in the middle of a freezing cold winter day in a house with no heat. Also make an emergency kit that’s easily accessible in case the power goes out. This should include:

  • Several extra blankets
  • A flashlight
  • A first aid kit and extra medication
  • Spare batteries and an extra charger for your phone
  • An emergency weather radio
  • Three days’ worth of drinking water
  • Canned or non-perishable food that doesn’t need to be cooked

In the event your heat stops working or a storm takes out your power, you can go to a city warming center. There are several located in Chicago, and most are open 24 hours a day.

Plan Short Trips Outside
When you plan to take a trip outside, try to cut the amount of time you’ll be outdoors. Break up your tasks into incremental trips. Instead of doing all your errands in one day, try to do one or two throughout the week. If you have to be outside for a long time, take frequent breaks indoors. For example, stop in a local coffee shop and grab a hot cup of coffee or water. Or stop into a gallery and look around for 20 minutes before venturing back outside.

Layers Work Better Than Insulation
Wear several layers instead of one insulated jacket. No matter how insulated your parka is, the Chicago wind will still cut right through it. When the wind gets through to your under layer, it will essentially turn you into a walking cooler. You want to dress for the wind, not the cold. Wearing multiple layers of loose clothing, including a wind jacket, will prevent the freezing wind from sneaking in. Wear long johns and thermals under your pants and shirt.

Invest in the Right Type of Jacket
Buy the right type of jacket for Chicago weather. While an expensive down parka might be fine in New York, it won’t be in Chicago. Down parkas make you warm, which makes you sweat. That’s not a problem in less windy areas of the country, but when the wind gets in and freezes that sweat, it can lead to hypothermia. Instead, by a jacket with a water and wind repellant exterior. A parka with medium insulation rated for -10 degrees with a nylon exterior is a good investment. It’ll help prevent you from getting wet and keep the wind outside your clothes.

Cover Your Hands, Feet, and Head
Always keep your extremities covered. Because your hands, feet, and head are the farthest from your heart, they’re the first parts of your body to get cold. Layer these areas up, too. Wear a few pairs of boot socks and leg warmers as well as reinforced winter gloves. Keep your face and ears as warm as possible by wearing a scarf wrapped around your head and neck under a hat or hood. Or pick up a winter hat that buckles under your chin.

Stay Healthy and Eat Right
Lastly, stay healthy and give your body what it needs to get though the winter. Eat foods that give you a lot of energy to burn throughout the day. Eat hot soup and drink warm beverages to keep your body temperature up. If you have to do outdoor work (like shoveling), go slow, take breaks, and pay attention to your body.


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