Thinking of Winter

Winter does not officially begin until December 21, but snowflakes were dancing in the air this morning and this has been the week when we have seen winter coats and hats appear on campus.

Chicago typically receives several inches of snow during a regular snow storm.

Many conversations center on the weather and thoughts of winter. Those of you who have been in Chicago in past winters know that we pride ourselves on how tough we are.  We love the beauty of a new snowfall and we know that much fun can be had despite –or even because- of the snow.  As cold temperatures are coming our way, we also pay close attention to the weather forecast … every day!  That is because conditions can change rapidly. Tuesday, November 11, for example, gave us temperatures of 60⁰ F (15⁰C) early in the day but dropped to 28⁰F (2⁰C) into the night.  For easy conversions, you can access temperature converters online like this one: .htm.

The mathematical formula for temperature conversions is not difficult and you can readily find this information.  What is much harder to do is to IMAGINE how cold it can get.  You may be from a country were severe cold is normal and preparing for winter in Chicago is not much of a challenge. If you are from a region in the world that is much warmer, this is a bit more of a stretch.

When the weather forecast on a winter day in Chicago tells us to expect a high temperature of 30⁰F (-1⁰C ), we are quite happy.  That ranks as a rather comfortable day. Days with highs in the 20s (20 to 29⁰F/-6 to -2⁰C) are quite common, and we will experience the occasional “cold spell” when the high temperature may actually be below zero F (-18⁰C). Night time temperatures may dip to -10 to -25⁰F (-23 to -32⁰C).  So being prepared is essential. 

The weather forecast will typically provide an additional measurement called the wind chill.  Wind chill is the effect of cold wind on exposed skin. The challenge to being comfortable outdoors in winter is to trap layers of warm air near your body in such a way that the wind cannot blow it away and expose your skin to even colder temperatures.  Dressing in multiple layers of clothing is essential and much more effective than wearing a light layer of clothing and a heavy coat over it.  Multiple layers let you stay warm more effectively, and as you spend time outdoors and in buildings, you can selectively remove some outer layers to be more comfortable.  Hats, scarves and gloves are essential.  This is so important that there is a wiki page called “Survive a Chicago Winter” ( It is worth visiting and even has a video to teach you how to “bundle up.”

During periods of severe cold, exposed skin can freeze in a matter of minutes, which is called frostbite.  This is most likely to occur in the body’s extremities, such as fingers, toes, and earlobes, and even a walk across campus in dangerously cold conditions can put you at risk.  So it’s a good idea to know what weather to expect and to be well prepared when you leave your dorm or apartment in the morning. Make sure to be dressed appropriately, and if you have to be outdoors in particularly cold weather, plan a route that lets you step into a building or two along the way to warm up.

Earlier I said that there is also much beauty and even fun to be had in winter in Chicago.  The city offers beautiful events during the winter season and something as simple as a walk with friends in freshly fallen snow, followed by a round of hot chocolate or soup, is invigorating and enjoyable.  Ice-skating on the Midway offers play-time in winter for children and adults alike, and excursions into the city as a group let you experience a different Chicago. (See OIA’s calendar of events for more.)  So rather than let the upcoming winter season intimidate you, be prepared for it and enjoy all it has to offer! 

OIA wishes you a healthy and happy (pre)winter season!

- Tamara Felden, OIA Director