So you’re thinking about moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and you’re doing your research…
You have heard about the low cost of living, how friendly the people are, and how cool of a city Milwaukee has become. But, you also heard about the Milwaukee winters.
So how bad is it really?
I can tell you from experience working with a lot of relocation clients that most of them will tell me afterwards, that they did not really know what to expect from a winter in Wisconsin. So in this video, I’m going to fix that. I’m going to tell you everything that you need to know about what it feels like living through the winter in Wisconsin. You’re going to see a lot of actual video footage that I’ve accumulated over the last few weeks. Stick around until the end of the video, because I’m going to share with you some tips and tricks on how to survive winter in Wisconsin.
Let’s face it. Nobody really enjoys winter in Wisconsin. Even local Wisconsinites will start complaining in the second half of the winter when everybody’s looking forward to spring.
When you break it down, what they’re really complaining about comes down to three elements.
So first, is the cold temperatures that come with the winter in Wisconsin. The second thing is the shortness of the days or the lack of daylight that we have. Third is the snow and ice.
So each of those three things come with their own challenges and with their own issues. The cold temperatures mean that you have to wear more than just a t-shirt when you go outside. Even if you just fetched the mail from the mailbox, you have to put on a jacket. Dressing up and then dressing down when you come back in, gets old rather quickly.
The second thing is the shortness of the days.
So the shortest days that we have here in Milwaukee is just before Christmas. At the winter solstice, we get only nine hours of daylight. That means that you might be leaving in the morning for the office while it’s still pitch black, dark outside, and you’re coming back after a day in the office and it’s already dark outside by the time you get home.
So from Monday through Friday, you may never see daylight.
The third thing is the snow. So in January and February, we get quite a bit of snow and that comes with a lot of chores. So as pretty as it can be, and it’s sometimes really fantastic to look at, it also means that you have to shovel your driveway. You have to maybe shovel your sidewalk, and it doesn’t really help with your commute.
I’m going to go over what winter feels like and looks like because it is not one continuous block of winter weather. It rather comes in different phases and different events. And they have their own challenges.
So let me break it down for you and cover the details.
Fall is really a gorgeous season here in Wisconsin and one of my favorites. We have fantastic weather in September and in October. Oftentimes, the weather is rather dry and we have a lot of these sunny days with mild temperatures. So you can be outside. It’s weather is fantastic for hiking if you want to enjoy the outdoors. During the day it’s really nice, pleasant, and warm outside. The weather usually starts breaking around Thanksgiving. So around Thanksgiving is when you can expect the first time to see a few snowflakes, maybe for the temperatures to drop into the 30s.
This year, we had a rather warm or mild December, with temperatures remaining in the 30s. Some days, even a little bit warmer. The holiday season and in particular, Christmas, is really something that I look forward to personally every year. And if you’re relocating from the South and you or your kids maybe have never experienced white Christmas, you have a really good chance for snow on the ground or snowflakes on Christmas or on Christmas morning, which really puts you in a holiday mood.
A lot of the homes are decorated extremely nicely during the holiday seasons. A lot of homeowners put a major effort into decorating the houses. I suspect that some of them are competing with the neighbors, and it is really a sight to be seen when you drive through a subdivision and everything is lit up. Some of the homeowners go as far as that they’re not only decorating their houses, but they’re also wrapping the trees in front of their houses or the fences in light.
So that is really a nice sight to see when you’re driving home at night. And this year with COVID, there were very limited things that parents could do with their kids to get out of the house. So getting them in the car and driving around and looking at houses with Christmas decoration became a thing. It puts the whole family in a Christmas mood when you see snowflakes and Christmas decoration. That’s just a really good combination that I personally enjoy a lot.
Temperatures are usually not that cold around the holiday season. So I would say on average, around 30, maybe 25, maybe 35 degrees. So for Wisconsin standards, that’s not that cold. I realize if you’re relocating from Florida, that’s not exactly what you’re used to. But for Wisconsin standards, 30 is not a super cold day.
I’m recording this video at the end of February, so we are really in the middle of the winter right now. This is when we typically have the most snow on the ground. This is also when it’s most likely that we get hit with a blast of that really cold Arctic air that can drop our temperatures into subzero territory. So it’s not like Wisconsin is subzero all the time. It really comes in these waves. When we get hit with a blast of Arctic air, it can get really cold for, let’s say a couple of days, maybe a week. And then we have a little bit more milder temperatures come in and then we get hit another time. So if I’m thinking back over the last five years, it seems like we get hit, two or three times every year in January and February with one of these really cold Arctic air events.
Those are often really gorgeous days. So after a snow storm, the air is followed by that Arctic blast, which is very dry and cold air. You wake up in the morning and everything is covered in powder snow. You look outside and it’s so bright you need to put on sunglasses because the sun is shining and the sky is dark blue. It’s absolutely amazing. But when you look at the temperature, it’s like minus 10 degrees.
When you step outside in minus 10 degree weather when the air is so dry, it is surprisingly tolerable. You can be out there for a couple minutes and it doesn’t feel so bad. But, you have to be really careful, especially with the windchill because you can very easily get frost bite if you don’t pay attention. So it’s very important that you actually cover your skin, that you wear gloves, and you don’t expose your skin longer than a few minutes. Even though it may not feel so bad, it’s a little deceiving. It looks fantastic, but you have to be really careful with subzero temperatures.
The one thing that is taking a turn for the better around this time of the year, end of February, beginning of March, is that we are getting a noticeable, additional amount of daylight every day. So if you schedule a real estate showing for five o’clock or six o’clock in the afternoon, you actually have some daylight left. So you can look at the exterior of the house. With that we’re getting into late winter, March and April. So this is the time of the year that I personally dread the most. Because now the temperatures are not as cold anymore. But everybody’s really waiting and longing for spring. And it’s just not happening. So March and April are still 30s, and 20s, and maybe 40s. You have some nicer days mixed in between. The sun is getting a little stronger. But then winter comes right back and dumps a bunch of snow. And we’re back into winter Wonderland.
One chore that you will definitely have to get used to when living in Milwaukee in the winter is that you have to clear your driveway after a snowfall. It doesn’t really matter if it was only two inches or if it was eight to 10 inches, you want to clear that snow out of your driveway before you drive your vehicle over it and you’re packing down the snow. So having the right equipment and the right gear definitely makes a difference. Let me show you how.
So if you’re relocating from the South and you have never actually dealt with snow, I’m going to start with the basics. You need a snow shovel. I like the models that are made from plastic and have got a metal handle. But the actual shovel is made from plastic as well, because they’re lightweight and they’re easy to work. This one is not an expensive one. It’s maybe 20, 25 bucks. I like having a broom. I’m not a big fan of putting salt on my driveway. But here’s the thing that really makes the difference. So I picked up this snowblower actually I think used, a few years ago from a guy who was moving to Florida, I believe. So I paid like $300 or $400 for it, and that makes a huge difference and it actually makes quick work, because I’ve got quite a bit of a driveway here.
Also today, we have really light fluffy snow. So it’s going to blow real easy. But if you get one of these little cheap ones and you got a foot of heavy wet snow, which we don’t get that often, but it can happen. Then, you want something like this. So this is actually two feet wide, 24 inches. This will actually eat snow up to here. So if it’s really high, you’ll still get through it, which is specially important down there at the street, because when the snowblower comes through, sometimes it got a berm of snow there. And if it’s wet, heavy snow, you’ve got a foot and a half or two feet of that wet, heavy stuff down there, then it’s not much fun.
All right, let’s talk about houses. When you come from a Southern state, the first thing that you notice about houses in Wisconsin is that they all have a basement. So it’s not a slab on grade. It’s not a crawl space. It’s actually a full basement dug into the ground because it is necessary. We get four or five feet of frost in the winter. So the soil freezes down four or five feet. You have to put the footings of the house, the foundation below the Frostline. So you have to dig down deeper than the Frostline. The other advantage that you have with basements is that you can house all your mechanicals here. So your furnace, your electric panel, your water heater. If you have a well, your well tank, everything will be in the basement.
And of course, a huge advantage for the Wisconsin winter if it’s too cold to go outside, many people are finishing the basement. So you have a rec room downstairs, a movie room downstairs, maybe a home gym. And that is space that you can use in the winter when it’s too cold to go outside for the kids to play or for the family to hang out. You have that additional basement space that your family can use. Everything is built and designed to be as frost proof as possible. For example, we are putting our water lines really deep into the ground, usually six feet or deeper to keep them out of the frost. And that is to avoid the issues that we’re seeing right now in Texas with all the water pipes freezing up and then bursting and then flooding their homes. So everything is designed to really withstand these temperatures.
The other thing that is different is insulation. Usually you have double pane windows. On older houses, you may have a single pane window, but then a second storm window on the outside that creates a little bit of an air buffer to keep the inside warm and toasty. And then of course you have much better insulation. So on a wall, on an older home, you should at least have R-15, R-17, R-19 insulation. And on new construction, they’re using a lot thicker insulation. Sometimes in the attic, you have something that’s like up to an R-50. So that is creating very energy, efficient houses.
Speaking of energy efficiency, I want to show you my We Energies bill. So We Energies is who is supplying our electricity and our gas. We don’t have multiple companies you can negotiate with and get your pricing from. We just have We Energies. And let me just show you what I have here. Here’s my bill from January 16th. So this is $273.28 cents. You can see that when you look down, you can see my total electricity charge was a little over $165. And my total gas charge was a little over $108. If you look at the previous balance from November, that was $200.51. So that is what you typically can expect on an energy bill here in Milwaukee.
By the way, if you’re thinking about relocating to Milwaukee and you want to watch more videos like this one, go to my channel. There’s a bunch of additional videos that tell you everything that you need to know about relocating to Milwaukee. I’m putting out a new video every week. So if you want to stay updated on everything that’s going on here, you can also subscribe to my channel. If you want additional information, you can download a free relocation guide from our website. We’ve put a ton of work into that. It’s very detailed. It’s about 40 pages, and it tells you everything that you need to know about the different neighborhoods, where to eat, where to work, where to have fun, what to do in the weekend, everything that you need to know about Milwaukee.
The next thing that you want from a house in Wisconsin is a garage. Because it is absolutely no fun to uncover your car from 10 inches of snow in the morning when you have to go to work. So keeping your car in the garage keeps it out of the snow. And there is a slight advantage to an attached garage versus a detached garage. Because if the garage is on your house, then you always have a little bit of heat and warmth leaking from the house into the garage. And that will keep the inside of the garage just a little bit warmer and most of the winter above freezing. So that means if you park your snow encrusted car in the evening, it might be actually thawed out in the morning and you have a puddle of water on the ground. But at least you don’t have to scrape ice from your windshield.
So a garage is nice to have. Which brings us to the next topic, driving. So driving in Wisconsin in the winter can vary greatly. After a storm event when we have a lot of snow, when we get eight inches or 10 inches, then you see all the municipal snowplows out there. They’re usually out before the snow event. And they’re putting a salt brine on the roads in preparation of the storm event. So when it starts snowing, the snow will not take on, on these roads because that wet salt brine will actually dissolve the snowflakes right away. And especially on the freeways, will keep those clear. And then they’re plowing all night. And more often than not, I would say all the major roads are clear in the morning.
So when you have to go to work, you can typically expect that the major roads are clear. And that is not a small task because we have about 8,000 miles of roads and streets here in the four counties of the Milwaukee Metro area. There’s a lot of people working all night, and they have the proper equipment. That’s a big difference to the Southern States. We have the equipment, we have the salt trucks, we have the plow trucks that run around all night long to make sure that the main freeways and the main roads are clear in the morning. And then usually throughout the day at the worst, throughout the next day, they’re clearing all the side roads. And so after 24 to 48 hours, you’re basically driving again on either wet asphalt or dry asphalt.
The other thing to know about driving here is your choice of tires. So most people in Wisconsin will drive with all season tires. They are made in kind of a compromise to work in the summer, to work in the winter. They kind of work reasonably well in all seasons. I have to drive a lot in the winter in snow, and I have to get to showings. I have to get to appointments. So it is very important for me that I can get there in any weather. So I put snow tires on my car. That is not what everybody’s doing here. It’s not the majority of the people because it’s a hassle. You have to take your summer tires off and put your snow tires on. But it makes quite a bit of a difference.
So if driving on snow is something that concerns you, or if you have to drive a lot in the winter, and you have to make sure that you get there and you get there on time, then you might consider putting on winter tires.
These are snow tires; they’re not full season tires. They’re not summer tires, they’re dedicated snow tires. And they have a much more aggressive tread and they’re also made from a softer rubber. This softer material will find good traction on ice and on snow. It makes a big difference.
The other thing that might get you by surprise, if you have never lived in a city with a lot of snow, is that we have special parking rules in effect. So you can imagine it’s a little bit of a problem for a big snowplow to get through a small neighborhood street. If you’ve got cars parked on both sides, what they’ll do is announce in the evening news the night before, if you’re supposed to park on the odd or on the even side of the street. And then all the cars are moving to one side. Of course, there’s always that one guy who didn’t get the memo. But then the plow can go through, pile up all the snow on one side of the street. And then the next night they switch it over, everybody parks on the other side.
All in all I would say, getting around in Milwaukee in the winter is not that difficult. For the most part, you will be driving on clear roads. They’re doing a really good job plowing it. When you’re driving on snow, that’s really limited to these few days that you have after a major snow storm. And it will take them a couple of days to clear the roads. But if you can’t make it in the office this morning and you call in, it’s generally socially accepted to be a couple hours late, to work from home. Even before COVID, that was never a big deal. People are just used to that.
If driving on snow makes you a little bit nervous, I would recommend trying it. It’s not that hard. You just have to get the hang of it. I would just go on a big, empty parking lot with nothing around and then get a little bit of a feel for your car. Drive slowly, step on the brakes, see how that feels. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can get used to driving on the snow.
So what about your free time? What about your social life during the winter in Milwaukee? I think it’s fair to say that for most people, social life will take a major hit during the winter months. And they will just go home after work and cuddle up on the couch, watch a bunch of Netflix movies. You won’t see your neighbors as much, maybe just shoveling the driveway in the morning. But not as much as your used to talking to them during the summertime. This is the time of the year when entertaining at home is really a big thing. So we oftentimes have friends over and we cook for them. Or we go out into a restaurant before COVID anyways. Milwaukee has a really cool restaurant scene. And we usually make it a point to meet up with friends at least once a week, and just have a nice dinner somewhere and maybe some drinks afterwards.
That is usually the social life. But more or less, happens all indoors. There’s not too much going on outdoors. As far as outdoor activities, I’m from Austria. So I really liked skiing and snowboarding, but unfortunately, we don’t have mountains here in Wisconsin. So what are people doing here in terms of recreation? Snowmobiling is a really big thing here. So we have 65,000 miles of snowmobile trails in Wisconsin. You’ll also see people going out ice fishing. And for my part, just going for a run or going for a walk on a nice winter day is usually a good way of catching some sunlight and getting some fresh air.
Speaking about going outside. Here’s another interesting observation that I make every year in fall. As the temperatures are dropping and it’s getting chilly, we’re going down into the 50s and into the 40s. I’m finding myself being cold. I’m miserable. I don’t want to be outside. I just want to get in the car, turn the heat on. My wife is even colder than I am, and she will dress up in 45 degree weather with a woolen hat and the scarf and gloves and a really thick jacket. And then the interesting part is in January and February, you get used to these really cold Arctic blasts. And you will find us in March going for a walk in 35 degree weather with our jackets unzipped and no hat. And we’re actually talking about that spring is around the corner and things are getting better. So you can see winter is something that you get used to. And it is also something that has a lot to do with being prepared. And also with the right equipment and the right gear, that will definitely make surviving in winter a lot more possible.
All right. So over the last few minutes you have seen and heard a lot about winter in Wisconsin. And I want to let you know that I’ve really not held back to show you the ugly side of winter in Milwaukee. But I also want to leave it somewhat on a high note. And today, as you can see, it is a really gorgeous, beautiful day. Today’s February 26th, and we actually have 46 degrees outside. And if I’m quiet for a second, you might be able to even hear the birds in the trees. You can see behind me, there’s people walking and running. Lake Michigan is not frozen anymore. So yes, there will be spring eventually here in Milwaukee. And we all can agree on one thing. If winter teaches you one thing in Wisconsin than it is that you really appreciate spring and summer.
If you have any questions or comments, things that I haven’t answered, or didn’t explain well, please put them in the comments section below. I usually try to get back to everybody within 24 hours. And if you have not already done so, give this video a thumbs up. It motivates me to make another one. And I’ll see you next week.