A sea of black metal chairs, stacked to the sky outside a popular outdoor dining spot, told the story better than any meteorologist. The weather has been awful as of late.

As of Thursday, precipitation had marred 8 of the last 11 days, the National Weather Service says. For May, the skies opened up on 14 days; in April, it rained 18 days.

No, it's not always like this. In place of picnics, bike rides and long lunch hours under sunny skies, outdoor waiters are missing out on tips, Little Leaguers are losing practice time and school-age kids are trapped inside on their first precious days of summer break.

Chicago's official rainfall is 5.36 inches above normal year-to-date, said Andy Boxell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, and the rainy days continue a pattern that began last year.

Richard Koeneman, a meteorologist for WGN-TV, said 2008 was the wettest year on record since 1929, as measured at Midway Airport.

"We've been in a very wet weather pattern for about 18 months¿one of the wettest periods ever in Chicago history," Koeneman said. "When a harsh winter is followed by a cool and cloudy spring, that doubles our impatience for warm weather."

Businesses that cater to alfresco dining have been suffering, as have the hearts of thousands of sun-starved Chicagoans.

"It's frustrating," said Lindsey Newman, a waitress at The Boundary in Wicker Park. Over lunchtime on Thursday, she and two other waitresses split tips from a grand total of six indoor tables.

The outdoor patio, which can seat about 50 people, was desolate.

Little League players have gotten a raw deal, said Jack Pruitt, head coach of the Welles Park Minor League Tigers in Lincoln Square.

"The rain hasn't been as much an issue as the cold," said Pruitt. "You can just see [the players] are just not as comfortable" when temperatures drop.

In Gurnee, the Park District won't open its Hunt Club Park Aquatic Center unless the forecast calls for a high temperature of at least 70 degrees. You would think that 70 is an easy benchmark for June. But using that threshold, the district's marketing director, Jennifer Gilbert, said the outdoor pool remained locked 9 of 15 scheduled swim days so far this year. On the six days it did open, the pool either opened late or closed early because of inclement weather.

On Thursday morning, swim enthusiasts heard familiar news.

"The aquatic center will be closed due to low temperatures," said a forlorn voice on the facility's answering machine.

Last year, chilly temperatures or rain forced the Hunt Club Park pool to be shuttered just four days the whole summer, Gilbert said.

The daily threat of precipitation has even given pause to area golfers, who normally welcome any patch of sunlight as an opportunity to hit the links.

"We're down about 15 to 18 percent this year," said Mike Scully, the head golf professional at Medinah Country Club. "And we're only sending out about two-thirds as many caddies as usual."

The wet weather has left the courses in beautiful shape, Scully said, but golfers remain skeptical about committing to a round. In Libertyville, Parks and Recreation Director James Zych said he was having a hard time keeping the village's staff of lifeguards and other summer workers occupied as the swimmers there stay away.

"I can tell you one thing, our facilities are extremely clean and weed-free," he said.