September in Chicago: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois Skyline
Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Labor Day marks the official end of Chicago's busy summer tourist season, but that doesn't mean the Windy City slows down in September. On the contrary, along with cooler weather and fewer crowds, there are still plenty of seasonal activities, events, and attractions worth exploring on your trip. The iconic highlights like Millennium Park and the Navy Pier become less hectic after the students return to school, leaving room for you to capture the quintessential selfie in front of Cloud Gate without a crowd cluttering the view. Performance arts companies like Goodman Theatre, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Joffrey Ballet begin to debut their fall productions this month, too.

Tornado Season

While it is rare for a tornado to make landfall in Chicago, the Windy City has been known to experience bouts of extreme weather being on the outskirts of Tornado Alley. The most severe case was an outbreak of five tornados (now known as the Oak Lawn tornado outbreak) that hit around the city in 1967. Tornado season for the Midwest (including Illinois) runs from March through September, with more storms likely to occur toward the end of the season. Make sure to turn on severe weather alerts on your phone if you're traveling during this time.

Chicago Weather in September

As summer gives way to fall, the weather in Chicago fluctuates between summer warmth and autumnal chill, sometimes showcasing both in a single day.

  • Average high: 74 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius)
  • Average low: 62 degrees Fahrenheit (17 degrees Celsius)

Chicago also sees its share of rain in September, averaging eight to 10 days of precipitation for about 3.4 inches throughout the month.

What to Pack

Because the weather can be unpredictable, it's best to prepare for both summer and fall conditions when you're visiting Chicago in September. Bring light layers like a sweater if you plan to be out early in the morning or late in the evening. You should plan to wear comfortable shoes, too, if you anticipate exploring the sights on foot. A raincoat and an umbrella will come in handy in the case of a sudden storm.

September Events in Chicago

From one of the country's biggest jazz events to a music festival whose lineup is said to rival Lalapalooza, the city of Chicago plays host to a number of popular gatherings each September. Even though it's technically the off-season for tourism, tickets to many of these big-name events sell out fast. Check the websites of the organizers for updated information as many events have been canceled in 2020.

  • Chicago Jazz Festival: A major city music festival since 1979, this free event spans over Labor Day weekend and features jazz performances in Grant Park from genre legends (including past performers Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Anthony Braxton, and Betty Carter) and up-and-coming stars. Visitors are encouraged to bring their kids as well as lawn chairs and picnic baskets.
  • African Festival of the Arts: Live music, markets, and food are the highlights of this annual Labor Day weekend event. The African Festival of the Arts transforms Washington Park into a simulated African village for the occasion, but shifts online in 2020 for live music streams on September 5 and 6, music video flashbacks, and an online marketplace.
  • North Coast Music Festival: Also holding up the music category is the Labor Day weekend North Coast Music Festival, in the past featuring top-billed performances by Odesza and Bassnectar. The event features a number of high-profile house music deejays and takes place at Huntington Bank Pavilion on Northerly Island.
  • Green City Market: More than 50 vendors are on hand at this bi-weekly event taking place all month long in Lincoln Park. It's one of the largest markets in the country, featuring chef demonstrations by local and nationally known professionals as well as events for school-age children.
  • Riot Fest: This three-day event in Douglas Park is said to rival Lollapalooza with its musical lineup. It's been postponed to 2021, but will feature big-name artists like My Chemical Romance, Sublime, New Found Glory, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Jewels.
  • Chicago Gourmet: The annual Chicago food festival—sponsored by Bon Appetit, the Illinois Restaurant Association, and Southern Wine & Spirits of America—typically showcases local, national, and international culinary talent in Millennium Park. In 2020, the traditional format of the outdoor epicurean event will be adapted for smaller gatherings around the city.

September Travel Tips

  • The weather is warm enough to explore outdoors via one of the many walking and biking food tours for at least for the first half of the month.
  • Hotel prices decrease due to the end of tourism season but airfare remains largely unchanged as many people still travel to the city for work.
  • Chicago is a major destination for single tourists, and there are plenty of great hotels for single people in the city, many of which offer discounted hotel packages.
  • There is a slight chance of flight delays or cancelations if a storm comes through, but there are also many places to dine and drink if you get stranded at one of the airports.
  • After Labor Day, Chicago beaches are officially closed until the following summer. Those who are caught swimming or wandering in off-limits areas may be subject to a fine.
  • Certain areas of the city are still prone to gun violence and high crime rates. Make sure you know about the neighborhood near your hotel before you book a room.