Next time you find yourself grumbling about the cold through chattering teeth, just remember: Chicago has the best weather in North America.
You’re probably reading this on 18-degree day, when an oatmeal cloud cover is hovering above your head and the Hawk, the lake wind that Chicago’s own Lou Rawls compared to “a giant razor blade blowing down the street,” is funneling westbound through the alleys.
It could be a lot worse. You could live in New Orleans. Or Los Angeles. Or Houston, which last summer was hit by Hurricane Harvey, killing at least 75 people and causing $200 billion in flooding damage. That has me wondering how much longer life along the Gulf Coast—or any seacoast—will be viable. But Chicago—and the Great Lakes region in general—has all the geographic and climatological assets to be a winner in the era of climate change. We’re about 600 feet above sea level, so we won’t be swamped by rising seas. There are no hurricanes on the Great Lakes, only the gales of November that Gordon Lightfoot sang about. And unlike the drought-vulnerable southwest, we’re never going to run out of drinking water.
In the movie L.A. Story, weatherman Steve Martin is replaced by a colorless functionary whose forecast is “72 degrees and sunny. Next report in three days.”
Sure, 72 degrees and sunny may be the climatic equivalent of prime rib, but do you want to eat prime rib every day? Here in Chicago, we get to experience the entire meteorological buffet—sun, rain, wind, heat waves, polar vortices, wet falling leaves pasted to windshields, Snowmageddons, gloomy Aprils that refuse to turn into spring—without the aforementioned gristle of hurricanes and extreme flooding.
Because of that, weather is to Chicago what football is to Dallas or politics is to D.C. Do you know who the highest-paid local TV weatherman in this country is? Tom freakin’ Skilling, who earns a million dollars a year not just because he’s so skilled at what he does, but because there’s so much demand for what he does: our enthralling climatic variety means we need to warned about what’s happening outside two or three times a day. “Skill-heads” won’t go to bed without watching Tom’s forecast, and they mob his annual severe-weather seminar at Fermilab. It’s Tom Skilling’s weather; the rest of us just put on a sweater for it.
The weather here also makes it a great place for getting shit done. We spend the summers in and around Lake Michigan and getting drunk in the bleachers at baseball games, then devote the other nine months to paying for all that fun. In his 1915 book Civilization and Climate, Yale geographer Ellsworth Huntington wrote that, “We are frequently told that the Riviera or southern California has an ideal climate . . . . For most people the really essential thing in life is the ordinary work of the day. Hence, the climate which is best for work may in the long run claim to be the most ideal.” He then identified the northern U.S. as an area where variety in temperature produces “Very High Energy” among the natives. A lot of people consider Huntington a quack, but Chicago is the City That Works. So stop complaining about the weather and get back to work. Or move to Miami, where you won’t get any done. v