The craziest St. Patrick’s Day weather since 1871 — and how the Tribune covered it

Chicago Tribune

Mar 29, 2021 6:11 AM

From 81 degrees to 4 inches of snow: Here’s a look at the warmest, coldest, wettest and snowiest weather on St. Patrick’s Day — March 17 — in Chicago going back to 1871.

Data is from the National Weather Service’s Chicago office and measured at the city’s official recording site, which has been O’Hare International Airport since Jan. 17, 1980. For almost a century prior to that, sites around downtown Chicago, the University of Chicago and Midway Airport were used to gather the city’s official weather data.

Onlookers watch the St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 17, 2012, in Chicago. Tens of thousands took advantage of record high temperatures and sunny weather to attend the city’s annual celebration. (Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

Chicago experienced its warmest St. Patrick’s Day on record in 2012, when the high temperature hit 81 degrees at O’Hare — seven degrees warmer than the previous record of 74 degrees, which was set in 2009. It was the fourth consecutive day of record-setting temperatures for the area.

A man dressed as a leprechaun greets people watching the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Chicago on March 17, 2012.

Chicago had recorded just 10 days in the 80s in March in the previous 142 years at the time, according to WGN-TV chief meteorologist Tom Skilling.

The normal high for March 17 in Chicago is 47 degrees, according to the National Weather Service, which also happens to be in the most frequent high temperature range for the day — the 40s.

The coldest high temperature on St. Patrick’s Day was in 1941, when the high reached 11 degrees.

In 2021, the high was 39 degrees.

“It’s nice to not be bundled up.”

Amy Bull, Rogers Park resident (March 17, 2012)


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As published in the March 18, 1900, edition of the Chicago Tribune. (Chicago Tribune Archives)

Chicago experienced its lowest temperature for March 17 in 1900, when the mercury dropped to negative 1 degree. Still, an estimated 3,000 people walked in or watched the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade as “whirlwinds of snow” swept over roofs and swirled upward in gusts.

As published in the March 18, 1900, edition of the Chicago Tribune. (Chicago Tribune Archives)

Even a goat with its horns dyed green and ribbons tied in its shaggy coat — a representative of the West Side Irish-American club — braved the weather, though the “punches, jibes, and flauntings of the crowds along the route” were probably worse.

That morning’s Chicago Tribune reported the previous day’s zero-degree temperature was only the fifth recorded “since the establishment of the local Weather bureau, thirty years ago.”

The normal low temperature on St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago is 30 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

In 2021, the low was 34 degrees.

“Old residents say that never before in Chicago did a St. Patrick’s day parade form under such stress of cold and snow.”

Chicago Tribune, March 18, 1900


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As published in the March 18, 1965, edition of the Chicago Tribune. (Chicago Tribune Archives)

St. Patrick’s Day has been mostly dry or resulted in a small amount of rain for all but four of the past 150 years.

State Street gets a name change for St. Patrick’s Day — O’State Street — and also a layer of snow on March 17, 1965. (Cliff Oliver/Chicago Tribune Archives)

Rain accumulating in half an inch or more has occurred just four times since 1871, according to the National Weather Service.

The most rain ever recorded on March 17 in Chicago was 1.42 inches in 1965. Wind gusts of up to 52 miles per hour were recorded. Despite “snow, sleet, and freezing rain,” however, thousands turned out for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on State Street. Crews worked all morning to clear snow and “make sure there wasn’t a single puddle left on the parade route,” the Tribune reported.

In 2021, 0.37 inches fell.

“Rain fell on the streets and froze in places. Then it snowed, and then it hailed and rained. In a few odd moments the sun broke thru the clouds briefly but beat a hasty retreat.”

Chicago Tribune, March 18, 1965


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St. Patrick’s Day revelers frolic in the snow on March 17, 1984, near the intersection of Delaware Place and State Street. A late winter snowstorm dropped 4.1 inches of snow at O’Hare International Airport and made going tough for those out to celebrate the wearing of the green. (Michael Budrys/Chicago Tribune)

Since 1871, snowfall of an inch or more has been recorded just five times on March 17.

The largest St. Patrick’s Day snowfall happened in 1984 when 4.1 inches blanketed O’Hare airport. Two inches of snow — the winter season’s heaviest hourly accumulation — fell between 5 and 6 p.m. at the airport.

“Like the foam on a pint of ale from the Auld Country, a late winter snowstorm frothed Chicago in white Saturday night, clearing the streets of many St. Patrick’s Day revelers.”

Chicago Tribune, March 18, 1984


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Depth of snow on the ground

Snow has been recorded on the ground on March 17 for just 10 of the past 150 years. Two of those years had snow depth of 5 inches or more.

Chicago had a snow depth of 7 inches — the deepest ever for the day — on March 17, 1960. The day was also memorable for two teenagers who used St. Patrick’s Day as their excuse for skipping school. Both wandered almost 1 mile out onto an ice-covered Lake Michigan. Onlookers at 79th Street tipped off police, who escorted the boys off the ice and to the Grand Crossing police station where they “received a scolding from juvenile officers,” according to the Tribune.

Martin Luther King Jr., left, has a coffee break with Chicago police Superintendent O.W. Wilson in Wilson’s office at 11th and State streets in Chicago on Jan. 27, 1966. (Chicago Tribune historical photo)

“Altho it has been traditional for the police chief [inevitably an Irishman] to take part in St. Patrick’s day festivities, or at least nominate an Irishman to represent him, Wilson had no representative on the reviewing stand Thursday. Wilson told reporters he ‘didn’t have time’ to take part.”

Chicago Tribune, March 18, 1960


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“Babbling burglar” Richard Morrison told authorities that he committed burglaries with the help of eight Chicago police officers working in the Summerdale district on the North Side. The officers not only covered for him during the break-ins, but also helped haul away the loot in their squad cars. All eight were arrested and convicted of participating in the burglary ring.

Upon the announcement of Wilson’s retirement in 1967, Mayor Richard J. Daley told reporters: “When any history of Chicago is written, his great contribution to our city’s progress will constitute one of its most inspiring chapters.”

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