How Bad Are Boston Winters? Local’s Guide to Staying Prepared

a snow-covered bridge

Boston is notorious for its winters, but you may be wondering, how bad are they really? I’ve been through three winters in Boston and lived to tell the tale, so here’s my honest perspective, as well as some historical data.

Whether you’re planning to move to Boston (or are already here), or you’re just visiting, this post will help you be prepared for the bone-chilling temperatures, knee-deep snow, and brutal windchill that freezes your nose hairs (I’m not joking).

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How Cold Does it Get in Boston in Winter?

If you’re not from the Northeast or Midwest of the US (or some other colder climate), you’ll be in for a shock with Boston’s winter temperatures. The average low temperature drops below freezing for most of the winter.

Here’s a table of the average highs and lows in Fahrenheit and Celsius:

November52°F / 11°C38°F / 3°C
December42°F / 6°C28°F / -2°C
January37°F / 3°C22°F / -6°C
February39°F / 4°C24°F / -4°C

Keep in mind that Boston is also one of the windiest cities in the US, so the wind chill can be much colder. It’s not uncommon for the real feel temperatures in the winter to dip into the low 10s in Fahrenheit (about -12°C).

How Much Does it Snow in Boston Winters?

Boston usually gets at least a couple BIG snowstorms per year. By big, I mean knee-deep snow that means school closures and back-breaking shoveling.

If you want the data, the average snowfall is 49 inches per year (124cm), with the vast majority of that happening in January and February.

Even worse, the snow often melts and refreezes, leading to icy roads and sidewalks. Black ice is a big problem in the winters, so you’ll need to be extremely careful.

Of course, the snow is absolutely stunning in Boston. I would go out of my way to go downtown just to see the snowscapes in the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Beacon Hill. It’s seriously magical.

What to Wear During Boston Winters: 7 Key Items

Now that you know just how bad Boston winters can get, here’s the clothing I’d recommend to stay warm and avoid slipping.

1. Thick coat

It’s best if it’s insulated, has down, and is longer. This Patagonia parka would do the trick since it all those qualities, plus it’s made from recycled nylon and down and sewn in a Fair Trade factory.

2. Base layers

This clothing will stay close to your skin and retain heat. I personally like wearing cotton long-sleeves as base layers, plus bamboo leggings (I’m all about that two pairs of pants life in the winter). If you’re going to be very active, it may be better to get moisture-wicking layers made of recycled synthetics or wool.

3. Waterproof boots

There’s going to be a lot of snow and slush, so waterproof boots will keep your feet warm and dry. If you also need hiking boots, I’ve personally just used hiking boots in the past as both my winter and walking boots.

4. Yaktrax/spikes

There’s a lot of ice (particularly black ice) during Boston winters. To stay safe while walking, I recommend having a pair of Yaktrax traction devices on hand. Just slip them over your shoes.

5. Gloves/mittens

Don’t just go with the cheap, knit ones. You need gloves/mittens with serious insulation. I actually prefer mittens over gloves, as your fingers will keep each other warm in proximity. They do make your hands less agile though, so I really like convertible gloves with a mitten layer.

6. Soft-shell pants

Ff you’re going to be shoveling the snow or walking through the snow, soft-shell pants will keep you warm and dry.

7. Hat or earmuffs and scarf

Hopefully you have these lying around your house anyways!

For Runners:

If you’re a runner, I recommend an ear warmer headband and gaiter. For gaiters, I prefer the lightweight ones, but if it gets below 15°F, I have a thick fleece one. When it gets to that temperature, I’ve still been able to run (I think the lowest was 8°F), but that’s when the condensation from your breath starts freezing on your gaiter and your nose hairs start to freeze too. It’s not the most pleasant time at all haha.

I also have a Yaktrax run traction device if it’s snowy and icy out, and it’s easy to add to my shoes.

Residents: Make a Plan for Shoveling the Snow

A thin, shoveled path through the thick snow in Brookline

As a resident of Boston, one of the most important (and most grueling) parts of winter is shoveling your sidewalks and driveways. In most of Greater Boston, you’re legally required to shovel the sidewalks around your residence within a certain amount of time after snowfall.

If you live in an apartment building, your landlord will probably take care of it, but if you live in a house, you could be responsible for snow removal.

You should check your lease or reach out to your landlord if you’re not sure. For example, in my house in Brookline, the landlord was responsible and she actually paid me $20/hour to shovel the snow for her (so she could save money on hiring a company to do it). Then, when I was in Medford, it was actually the tenants’ responsibility, and we were not paid for it (though the landlord was nice enough to bring a snow blower after a particularly bad storm).

Here are excerpts of the rules for Boston and surrounding cities:

  • Boston: “Clear sidewalks and curb ramps within three hours after it stopped snowing. If it snowed overnight, clear sidewalks and curb ramps within three hours after sunrise. Please clear at least a 42-inch-wide path for people using wheelchairs and pushing strollers.”
  • Brookline: “Brookline’s bylaws require property owners to maintain sidewalks contiguous to their property in a non-slippery condition suitable for pedestrian travel by clearing all snow and ice from a pathway of at least thirty-six (36) inches in width…[they] must comply with this bylaw within 24 hours of a storm’s end or within 30 hours when a storm ends between 4 pm on a Friday and 12 noon on a Saturday.”
  • Cambridge: “Ice needs to be removed within 6 hours from the time it forms…Snow needs to be removed within 12 hours after snow stops falling during the day and before 1pm if it snowed during the night…”

If you don’t comply with these rules, you can be fined anywhere from $50-250 per day. Shoveling is huge hassle in the winter, but it’s important for safety and accessibility purposes.

Cars covered in snow with a shoveled path between them

One of the biggest headaches though is if you have a car and park on the street; you’ll need to shovel out your car only for someone else to potentially take the spot. In fact, some people become so defensive of their shoveled parking spots that they’ll set out chairs, cones, and booby traps to “reserve” the space.

If you’re looking for snow shoveling supplies, you may want to consider a snow blower and definitely at least a good snow shovel. I encourage you to shop at local hardware stores, or ask in Buy Nothing/Everything is Free groups to borrow from neighbors.

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments, or if you have more tips for surviving Boston winters! If you’re wondering what living in Boston is like outside of winter, check out my complete guide to life in Boston.

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