Warm thoughts about Chicago’s winters – really

WinterFrom the Saturday, Jan. 10, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

In Chicago, winter is about as popular as City Hall.

Both can be terribly taxing.

And last month, with the Great Polar Vortex still wintry fresh in our minds, Chicago Tribune business columnist Melissa Harris wrote a piece entitled, “The Mass Exodus of 2014,” in which she spoke to an Evanston blogger who claims to have had 48 friends flee the area for other states during the past 14 months.

“Every year people complain about the weather, but last year especially, it was just ridiculous,” said 36-year-old Saya Hillman, who surveyed 22 of her friends about their reasons for leaving Illinois. “I think most of these people, where weather played a part, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, I’ve never thought about moving before.’ The weather was the kicker. It was the thing that pushed them over the edge.”

Yeah, maybe. But I tend to think that anyone who leaves Chicago for that reason is a wimp. And as a different Tribune business columnist, Phil Rosenthal, pointed out this week, “truth is, we’re sweating bigger problems in this state” – namely, our avalanche of financial concerns, which is something that should really chill us to the bone.

And that’s likely the true reason why most Illinoisans are leaving.

But back to the polarizing – and polar-like – issue of Chicago’s cold, which last winter dumped a whopping 82 inches of snow on the city while also plunging temperatures below zero on 26 different days, more than the during previous five winters combined.

It was bad. It was really bad. Ridiculous even, as Hillman said.

So much so that my friend Mike, who’s well known on Facebook for lamenting Chicago’s weather, told me that while he thinks the Windy City is the country’s best, he’d also bolt town tomorrow if only he could. And because of the weather, he’d tell others to avoid it too.

“If anyone ever asked me if they should move here,” Mike said, “I’d give them a vehement disapproval of the idea.”

While I respect Chicago’s civic pastime of complaining about weather – and even embrace it myself – I vehemently disagreed. There’s no doubt that Illinois and Chicago have their flaws – way too many, thanks to our elected leaders – but I still love the Land of Lincoln. And in Chicago, I even think there’s a special beauty in our brutal winters that goes well beyond how lovely the city looks while blanketed by freshly fallen snow.

That’s because the way that I’ve always rationalized Chicago’s often wicked weather from late November through early April is that it’s a huge part of the reason why summers in the city are so incredible.

The cold and snow that we endure makes us appreciate the warmth and sunshine so much more than many other cities, where it can become all too easy to take such things for granted.

Another Facebook friend, Jennifer, an Illinois transplant now in California, agreed with me, saying how, “Living in San Diego, the weather is wonderful, but perfect weather every day gets old. I miss a good thunderstorm, and snow at Christmas.”

I would too. I love getting to experience the change of seasons every year, and will always choose a White Christmas over a warm one. My wife is no fan of Chicago’s winter chills herself, but I told her, “Cold builds character. And that’s what vacations are for.”

Speaking of which, as you read this column, I’m down in New Orleans for a weekend getaway, where the unseasonably cool weather is supposed to only be in the 40s. But Chicago’s cold also helps with that.

Because it makes me appreciate even those temperatures too.