Weather in the Midwest — generally considered to include Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio, though other nearby states are often considered Midwestern as well — varies dramatically from state to state and season to season. Without any oceans nearby to moderate the changing temperatures, summers in the region can be brutally hot, while winters can be frigid. Pack carefully for any trip to America’s heartland.
The Midwest has expansive rural areas, and cities including Chicago.
Temperatures in the Midwestern part of the U.S. can swing 100 or more degrees between winter and summer. In winter, temperatures can fall below zero in many parts of the region, though the season isn’t always brutal: Visitors may experience daily high temperatures between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit at times. Spring and autumn temperatures tend to be moderate, ranging from the 50s to 70s. Summers in the Midwest tend to be humid and hot. Temperatures in the 80s and 90s are common, and in many areas of the region, the temperature rises to triple digits at least a few times each summer.
Rain is a common occurrence in the Midwest. From spring through early fall, rain will typically fall a few days a week in many parts of the region. For instance, according to the Weather Channel, Chicago gets an average of around 4 inches of precipitation per month in late spring and summer. Snow is also standard in winter months, though again, it varies depending on the area. In southwestern Minnesota — the northernmost state in the Midwest — an average of 36 inches of snow falls each year, while an average of 70 inches of snow falls each year in the northeastern part of the state that borders Lake Superior.
Tornadoes are a frightening part of life in Midwestern states. Tornado Alley, a swath of land known for its high incidence of tornadoes, is concentrated in the center of the United States but extends up into Minnesota and Iowa. For its part, Iowa has an average of 48 tornadoes per year, with the majority of storms in May and June. Droughts are also unfortunately common in spring and summer, and can be devastating for area farmers. On the other hand, heavy rainfall can lead to flooding in low-lying areas of the region.
Packing for the Midwest
No matter when you’re visiting the Midwest, pack layers so you can adjust to changing temperatures. In summer, you’ll likely want mostly shorts and T-shirts, but pack some long-sleeved cotton shirts and sweaters and at least one pair of long pants. Pack a rain coat or windbreaker, waterproof hiking boots and a travel umbrella in case of a downpour. For spring and autumn, think long pants and flannel shirts or cozy sweaters, but bring some short-sleeved shirts for the occasional heat wave. In winter, you’ll need full snow gear. Pack a heavy wool coat or parka, high waterproof snow boots, thick wool socks and a scarf, mittens and a hat. You may also want to pack snow pants if you want to ski, drive a snowmobile or go snowshoeing, since these activities are favorite pastimes in chilly winters.
- U.S. Global Change Research Program: Midwest
- Weather.com: Monthly Averages for Chicago, IL
- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources: Climate Frequently Asked Questions
- National Severe Storms Laboratory: Tornado Climatology
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Iowa Tornado Climatology 1980-2008
- Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images