Illinois First Fall Freeze Climatology

Due to significant planting delays across most of the Midwest this year, I have heard many concerns about an early fall freeze and its potential effects on immature crops. Most plants experience damage from a hard freeze or “killing freeze”, which is typically designated by a daily minimum air temperature at or below 28°F. Even in normal growing seasons, an early fall freeze can cause considerable impacts and yield losses for crops. Delayed planting, as was the case this season, increases the risk of freeze damage because crops are less mature going into our normal fall freeze time.

The maps and summary below show first fall freeze dates across Illinois using temperature observations over the period 1979 to 2018. The maps show the earliest and latest fall freeze dates over this 40-year period, as well as the median date, which represents the middle value in the range of dates. The median is preferred over the mean or average, as it is less sensitive to very early or very late freeze dates. Also shown are the 10th (1 in 10 years) and 90th (9 in 10 years) fall freeze dates. All station temperature data were provided by the Midwest Regional Climate Center (; the shaded areas between stations on the map were interpolated and do not represent actual observations.

The earliest fall freeze dates over the past 40 years range from late September in northwest and central Illinois, to early October in southern and eastern Illinois. An early freeze anomaly can be seen at the Mt. Carroll station (Carroll County), which experienced a minimum temperature of 27°F on September 7, 1988. Interestingly, the observed all-season Illinois minimum temperature record was broken earlier this year at the Mt. Carroll station (-38°F).

Tenth percentile first fall freeze dates (i.e., 1 in 10 years) range from early October in northwest and central Illinois to mid- to late October in southern and eastern Illinois.

Median first fall freeze dates range from mid- to late October in northwest and central Illinois to late October/early November in southern and northeastern Illinois. Approximately half the years between 1979 and 2018 experienced the first fall freeze before the median dates. Also, the median dates map clearly shows the effects of the developed Chicagoland area on nighttime minimum temperatures. The median first fall freeze date at Chicago Midway is 10 to 15 days later than in some of the collar counties.

Ninetieth percentile first fall freeze dates (i.e., 9 in 10 years) range from early November in northwest and central Illinois to mid- to late November in southern Illinois. Based on the 40-year climatology, one could say that there is a 90% chance that the first fall freeze on any given year will occur on or before the dates in the 90th percentile map.

Finally, the latest first fall freeze dates across the state range from mid- to late November in northwest Illinois to early to mid-December in southern Illinois.

Note that air temperatures can vary considerably on smaller or micro-scales. For example, plants near heated buildings or other development can be spared when minimum temperatures dip below the 28°F threshold in the countryside. More information and useful freeze products are provided by the Midwestern Regional Climate Center as part of their Vegetation Impact Program (  Higher quality, full-page maps can be accessed by clicking the following links:

10th_Percentile 90th_Percentile Earliest Latest Median

Frost in Illinois – Not Quite Yet

While cold air moved in behind the low-pressure system that passed through the Midwest this week, it looks like Illinois will likely dodge the freezing temperatures for now. But someday they will come. Here are the median dates for when we see the temperatures drop to 32 or below in fall, as well as the earliest date in 1 out of 10 years.

In general, we hit 32 degrees in early October for northern Illinois and mid October for central and southern Illinois. In 1 year in 10, we have seen 32 degrees in the last week of September (second map) or the first few days of October. See more maps and discussion of frost on the State Climatologist web site.


Continue reading “Frost in Illinois – Not Quite Yet”

Frost Climatology in Illinois

frost2It is that time of year to discuss the nemesis of every gardener out there – the late spring frost or freeze. We have a full suite of maps showing the earliest, 1 in 10 years, median, 9 in 10 years, and latest frost (32 degrees) and freeze (28 degrees).

One of the things you notice about this map, and all the others in the series, is that even though the date for the last spring frost/freeze gets later the farther north you go, you can get big differences between nearby locations. The reason for that is that most of these last frosts occur during calm, clear, cold nights. As a result, subtle local features can make a big difference. For example, cold air can settle in low-lying areas, causing frost pockets. Or locations out in the countryside may be just a few degrees cooler than in town, due to warm buildings, that may make them vulnerable to a later frost. Also, keep in mind that we measure the air temperature at 5 feet above the ground while the ground and some objects may cool to lower temperatures on calm, clear nights. Therefore, you may see frost even if the temperature is reported as 34 or 35 degrees.

Personally, I use these maps as a general guide. However, I watch the latest weather forecasts closely for a few weeks after I have new plants in the ground for any surprises. The NWS does put out hard freeze warnings (temperatures at or below 28 degrees with or without frost), freeze warning (temperatures at or below 32 degrees with or without frost), and frost advisories for widespread frost.

Click to enlarge.