As America’s third-largest city, Chicago is heady combination of iconic architecture, a dynamic arts scene, and a culinary landscape as diverse as its population. Referred to as the “Windy City, ” Illinois’ capital city serves as a significant hub for business, tourism, and high-octane city living. When September rolls around, the city undergoes a charming transformation. Chicago’s weather shifts from summer’s sweltering heat and humidity to autumn’s cool, inviting vespers, making it an ideal time for both outdoor activities and urban exploration. So, let’s take a gander at what you can expect in Chicago during the month of September.
Chicago Weather in September: Autumnal With a Hint of Summer
A Snapshot of Chicago’s Climate
Chicago is a city of contrasts, thanks to its proximity to Lake Michigan. This geographical neighbor bestows the city with a milder climate compared to other continental cities. Yet, the lake is also a wild card, often causing the weather to change gears without warning, including unanticipated rain showers or sudden temperature fluctuations.
The Origin of the “Windy City” Moniker
You might assume that Chicago earned its “Windy City” nickname from its gusty lakeside weather, but the story behind this title is more nuanced. Originating as a jab from a New York newspaper reporter, the term was initially meant to mock Chicagoans’ enthusiastic promotion of their city as the site of the 1893 Columbian Exposition— or as the reporter suggested, “windy.” The nickname also echoes the historical sentiment that local politicians were full of “hot air.” Yes, it is true that Chicago does experience wind speeds slightly higher than the average American city. The city sees wind ranging from 8 mph in the summer to 12 mph in the spring. But the name is more a comment on local fervor and politics than meteorological conditions.
September Weather in Chicago: A Calm Balancing Act
Chicago’s September weather is a cocktail of sunny and cloudy days, often garnished with occasional rain showers. On average, expect the skies to be clear or partly cloudy for about 60% of the day—approximately 14.3 hours. It may not be as luminous as the summer, but it certainly fends off the gloom that awaits in winter.
September Temperatures in Chicago: A Month of Gradual Cooling
As September rolls in, daytime highs can hover around 80°F, especially during the early days. But keep your sweaters close at hand. By month’s end, the daytime highs are likely to dip to around 70°F. The overall average temperatures for September sit comfortably at 74°F for highs and 62°F for lows.
Once the sun sets, the atmosphere takes on a more relaxed vibe, with temperatures ranging from 62°F to 51°F. But remember, September has had its outliers: a scorching 101°F on September 2, 1953, and a chilling 33°F on September 25, 1942.
When it comes to humidity, Chicago in September is like a refreshing iced tea—moderate, at an average of 72%, and comfortably cool.
September Rainfall in Chicago: A Generally Dry Affair
If you’re a pluviophile, September might disappoint your melancholy heart. The month only garners an average of 3.19 inches of rain over roughly five days. The record for the driest September goes to 1979, with an almost negligible 0.01 inches. On the flip side, September 11, 2000, stands as a day to remember with a whopping 4.2 inches of rainfall.
Sun, Daylight, and a Touch of Wind
Chicago’s September is relatively generous when it comes to sunshine. On average, the city enjoys 12.5 hours of daylight. Sunrise kicks off the day at 6:29 AM and by 7:00 PM, the sun bids adieu. You can expect clear or partly cloudy skies about 67% of the time, particularly on September 5, touted as the clearest day.
As fall gains a foothold, days start to shrink, a gentle nod to the impending winter season. The winds also tend to pick up speed during this month. But there’s a silver lining: muggy conditions wane, dropping from 36% to 6%.
The Climate Change Angle
It’s crucial to note that climate change has been reshuffling Chicago’s weather deck, making autumns warmer and rainfalls less predictable. September is no exception to these changing patterns.
Chicago’s September Extreme Weather Events: Rare but Real Risk
While Chicago is mostly spared from extreme weather events like hurricanes or earthquakes, it has its own set of climatic idiosyncrasies. Tornadoes, though infrequent, are the most significant weather-related threat to the city and its metro area. The metropolitan area does hug the periphery of Tornado Alley, after all. For instance, on September 14, 1928, an F4 tornado with a devastating 26-mile path ripped through Rockford and the southeast side of Chicago, killing 14 people, injuring 100, and causing $1.2 million in damages.
Tornado activity seems to peak during spring, with a secondary rise in late summer through mid-fall. For those venturing outdoors, it’s worth noting that tornadoes are most frequent from early afternoon through the evening, peaking around 5:00 to 6:00 PM. Interestingly, the Chicago area experienced a surge of tornado activity from the 1950s through the 1970s for reasons that remain elusive to meteorologists.
Impact and Significance of These Events on the Location
While tornadoes are rare, their potential for destruction cannot be understated, and Chicago is overdue for a major event of this kind. This is particularly concerning given the city’s evolving demographic landscape: an entire generation of Chicagoans has come of age since the last violent tornado, and many have moved to the area from different parts of the country and the world. The general lack of extreme weather in Chicago and tornado experience among the populace poses the danger of a vulnerable and unprepared population. Furthermore, areas that were once open farm fields have now been developed, increasing the density of potential targets.
In a less dramatic but still noteworthy weather vein, Chicago’s snowfall is mostly confined to the months from October through May. However, traces of snow have been recorded in both June and September, expanding the city’s snow-receiving period to 10 months of the year. Among these, two “trace events” stand out: September 25, 1928, and September 25, 1942, when temperatures dipped to as low as 30°F.
Is September a Good Time to Visit Chicago?
The weather in Chicago is pleasant during this month, but not too pleasant. Warm but not too warm. Cool but not so cool it’s cold. So, let’s take a closer look at the Goldilocks magnetism of September in Chicago.
Less Crowded, More Enjoyable
In addition to its staid weather, Chicago in September offers the advantage of fewer crowds, especially if you visit after the Labor Day weekend. This means you can enjoy popular tourist spots without the usual hustle and bustle. If your hotel has an outdoor pool, September’s warm temperatures usually make it possible to take a dip, and you’ll likely find the pool less crowded than in the summer months.
Chicago Jazz Festival
This free event spans over Labor Day weekend and features jazz performances in Grant Park from genre legends and up-and-coming stars.
African Festival of the Arts
Held on Labor Day weekend, this festival transforms Washington Park into a simulated African village, offering live music, markets, and food.
North Coast Music Festival
This Labor Day weekend event features high-profile house music deejays and takes place at Huntington Bank Pavilion on Northerly Island.
Occurring during the autumn equinox, this bi-annual event offers a magical view of the sun aligning with Chicago’s east-west street grid.
This three-day event in Douglas Park features big-name artists and is said to rival Lollapalooza with its musical lineup.
Day of the Dead Celebrations
The National Museum of Mexican Art hosts various activities, including the annual Día de los Muertos: Love Never Dies Ball.
Chicago offers various haunted and ghost tours, exploring the city’s haunting history and alleged supernatural sightings.
Millennium Park and Navy Pier
These become less crowded after Labor Day, offering a more relaxed experience.
Particularly the area around North Pond and South Pond, is a great place to experience the fall foliage.
Food and Drink in Chicago in September
Where to Find It: No trip to Chicago is complete without trying the city’s famous deep-dish pizza. Places like Lou Malnati’s, Giordano’s, and Art of Pizza are some of the must-visit spots to experience this Chicago culinary icon. And with Chicago’s September weather still warm enough for al fresco dining, you can even order your deep dish to-go and make it a picnic by the lake!
What Makes It Special: Unlike traditional pizzas, the deep-dish pizza features a thick, buttery crust that holds layers of cheese, toppings, and a chunky tomato sauce. It’s a hearty meal that’s best enjoyed with a fork and knife.
Seasonal Variants: In September, you might find seasonal variants that incorporate autumnal ingredients like squash or apple. Some restaurants even offer a “fall harvest” deep-dish pizza, featuring a medley of seasonal vegetables.
Pairing: Deep-dish pizza pairs wonderfully with local craft beers, especially those with a malty profile to balance the richness of the cheese and tomato sauce.
Stadium Dogs (Chicago-Style Hot Dogs)
Where to Find It: For an authentic experience, head to places like Portillo’s, Superdawg Drive-In, or the stands at Wrigley Field and Soldier Field. These venues offer the quintessential Chicago-style hot dog.
What Makes It So Special: A Chicago-style hot dog is a boiled all-beef frankfurter topped with a variety of condiments such as yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, pickled sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt. Importantly, ketchup is a no-no on an authentic Chicago-style hot dog.
Game Day Experience: September is a great time to catch a game at one of Chicago’s iconic stadiums and enjoy a stadium dog right at the heart of the action. Whether it’s a Bears game at Soldier Field or a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, the experience is quintessentially Chicagoan.
Pairing: A stadium dog pairs well with a classic American lager or a light craft beer, making it the perfect game-day treat.
This is a must-attend event for food enthusiasts. Held in Millennium Park, Chicago Gourmet usually takes place in late September and features a variety of cooking demonstrations, tastings, and book signings by local, national, and international chefs. It’s a fantastic opportunity to savor gourmet dishes and fine wines in one location.
While the official Oktoberfest in Germany might be a world away, Chicago offers its own versions of this beer-centric celebration. Various neighborhoods host Oktoberfest events where you can enjoy German beers, sausages, and pretzels.
Chicago’s culinary scene is diverse, and what better way to explore it than through a food tour? Whether it’s a deep-dish pizza tour, a trip through historic Chinatown, or a gourmet dining experience in the West Loop, there’s a food tour for every palate.
September is an excellent time to explore Chicago’s burgeoning craft beer scene. Many breweries offer seasonal autumn brews that you won’t find at other times of the year.
While the weather is still mild, take advantage of Chicago’s rooftop bars. These venues offer stunning views of the city skyline, and many have a unique cocktail menu that utilizes seasonal ingredients.
Don’t miss the chance to visit one of Chicago’s many farmers’ markets while the weather still permits. These markets offer fresh produce, artisanal cheeses, and homemade baked goods. It’s a great way to experience the local food culture and perhaps even enjoy a picnic in one of the city’s beautiful parks.
Specialty Coffee Shops
As the weather starts to cool down, warm up with a visit to one of Chicago’s specialty coffee shops. Whether you’re a fan of lattes, espressos, or unique coffee brews, you’ll find something to satisfy your caffeine cravings.
So, is September a good month to visit Chicago? Absolutely. With its blend of cultural events, seasonal activities, and iconic locations, September offers a rich and varied experience for any traveler.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com
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