Whether you are coming to New York for a visit or long-term, you are going to need to know how to dress, prepare and mitigate the neurotic weather. I won’t even begin to tackle the fashion angle of “how to dress”, because that is just begging for trouble. Instead, let’s take a look at each of the seasons, what it is like in the city and some hints for being prepared:
You can always count on two or three big snowfalls each winter here – people will complain about how the city responded, how the subways were delayed and how damned cold it is outside – it is part of the shared hardship that forges our togetherness as New Yorkers. In the past four or five years, one of those big storms has been either the week before or the week after Christmas, so if you are planning on flying around the holidays, plan ahead and bring a book.
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The interesting thing about snowfall in New York is that it doesn’t really stick around the way you might think. Unless you are pretty deep into Queens or Brooklyn, it is unlikely you will see much snow more than 4-5 days after a blizzard: with so much infrastructure beneath the city and so much foot traffic, most of the snow is melted off rather quickly. Instead, your biggest obstacle is bound to be slush. As the snow melts into the storm drains, huge slush puddles form on every street corner in Manhattan. So, rather than snow boots, get a pair of high rain boots and wear some thick socks.
You are also going to be surprised at how warm it can be in the subways once you are all bundled up for those 30 degree days. Make sure you dress in easily-configurable layers so you don’t end up soaked in sweat by the end of your commute only to walk out into a cold wind.
Spring in New York is a delicate balancing act between heat, snow and rain. This year, it was 78 on a Sunday with a foot of snow on Wednesday. So, like everywhere, spring here is pretty unpredictable, but usually ends up in the 50s-60s range most of the time.
I was surprised at how much rain we get, so again, rain boots are going to be important. Another thing about rain in the city (specifically in Manhattan) is that umbrellas are tools of torture on crowded sidewalks. Being a 6′ 1″ guy, walking down the street in the rain is a terrifying experience because the sharp corners of every umbrella are lined up perfectly with my eyeballs. Please do everyone a favor and buy a raincoat rather than an umbrella… you will end up dryer, less dangerous and my personal hero. Umbrellas also triple the amount of space every person takes up on the sidewalk, so you are really helping make everyone else’s walk a little less cramped too!
Summer is hot. There is no real way to sugar coat this: summer in NYC is rather miserable. Being surrounded by heated concrete and sweaty commuters for 3 months of temperatures in the 80s-90s is no easy task. Of course, there are some people who love it and praise NYC summers to no end, but I recommend trying to plan weekend roadtrips, beach vacations or any other excuse to leave town a few times to keep your sanity.
Really, I suppose the worst part is trying to commute to work without showing up in a shirt and tie soaked through with sweat. Some people will wear one set of clothes to the office and then change on their arrival, so if your office environment allows for it, that might be a decent solution for you. The other good news is that through the summer, there are a ton of activities held outdoors: movies in parks, beach parties on Governor’s Island, pool parties in Williamsburg, etc. so you can escape the heat a bit, even without leaving the city.
Fall in New York is amazing. I declare it to be the greatest season in any city, anywhere. Mid-September when the temperature drops a bit, restaurants start to be more open-air, people are a little friendlier and roasted nuts start to appear on a few more corner carts. The weather ranges from upper 50s to the mid-70s, so a thin jacket with jeans and a T-shirt is definitely sufficient. This is also the time of the year that you will want to walk around and explore the city a bit. Check out the West Village for an Annie Hall/Manhattan-era Woody Allen feel or head up to Central Park and just enjoy grass (you would be amazed at how nice grass feels after not walking in any for a few months).
The only special recommendation for Fall is to carry a small stocking hat or scarf in your bag- sometimes after dark it might get a bit chilly, especially if you are on the west side of Manhattan or downtown, closer to the water.
Obviously this is not an Almanac for what to expect for weather, but knowing little things like rain boots for the winter can be very helpful for planning ahead. I’m sure there are many who will disagree with my sentiments toward summer here, but I’ll be inside in my AC anyway.