Chicago is a city that is well known for deep dish pizza, wind, good music, a big silver bean, and snow. Winters in Chicago can be harsh, and snowfall has reached as high as 23 inches in a 1967 blizzard (January 26-27). In more recent times, a 2015 Chicago blizzard (January 31 - February 2) produced over 19 inches of snow. In fact, for exactly as long as the Chicago Cubs baseball team has existed, it has snowed each Chicago winter. That’s 146 years to be exact.
So, is it ironic that the year they break a long losing streak, the snow in Chicago disappears in January and February? Yes, it is pure irony. However, that is a fun fact to know! Here are some more facts that you need to know about Chicago snowfall and the lack thereof this year.
Snowfall during a typical Chicago winter
Chicago averages 36 inches of snow in the winter months. During this time, January and February see an average of 14+ days of snow. It is important to note that, although we’ve discussed some extreme one-off blizzards, the range of snowfall over the winter varies greatly. Some winter seasons in Chicago see as little as 10 inches of snow altogether. Other years, there may have been nearly 90 inches of snow before winter was over. However, no one alive has ever witnessed a January or February without snow in Chicago. The last time it happened was 146 years ago!
Reasons for lack of snowfall
Why didn’t it snow? Global warming is the main culprit. It has been unseasonably warm in Chicago. In fact, February 2017 has been one of the warmest on record in Chicago. Temperatures reached as high as 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus, what would normally turn to snow during these months instead reached the ground as rain.
The lack of snow must also be chalked up, at least partially, to variations in winter weather in Chicago. As a resident of Chicago you never really know what you're going to get in terms of snowfall.
Effects of lack of snowfall this winter
Many businesses were heavily impacted by the unexpected lack of snow. Businesses that drive revenue from snowfall saw a decline in sales and revenue, while businesses that typically see a slow down in sales during the winter months were pleasantly surprised with the outcome.
Snow removal was an obviously impacted market with no snow touching the ground in January and February 2017. Most snow removal companies charge on a "per visit" basis, which means that a complete lack of snowfall resulted in no revenue. Conversely, this drove a significant cost savings for residents of condo associations in Chicago that pay these companies to service their properties.
Chicago residents were also able to reduce their electricity and gas usage as the need heat their homes was reduced by warmer temperatures. Also, people didn’t have to endure the "cabin fever" that blizzards can cause. January and February 2017 saw a much more active populace and an early start to plants blooming.
What does this mean for future winters?
Since Chicago winters vary so much from year to year, it is difficult to know what to expect in upcoming years. It is interesting to note that most experts had forecasted a heavy snow year prior to the start of the 2017 winter. Yes, global warming is slowly shifting and changing the seasons. However, the shift isn’t so major that it would erase winter snowfall altogether.
Expect the unexpected, but know that Chicago winters can still produce massive amounts of snow. Don’t donate your winter coats just yet. Let’s wait to see what January and February of 2018 have in store.