The Blizzard of ‘67
Nearly everyone in Chicago has said it at one time or another "If you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes." Well, maybe it wasn’t ten minutes but just two days before the biggest storm in Chicago’s history, the was 65 degrees. Sixty-five, in Chicago, in January.
The night before the storm, January 25th, 1967, the prediction was for a 50 percent chance of precipitation. It wasn’t clear if this would be rain or snow. Chicago was caught by surprise. There were no weather satellites. Computerized weather models were new and imperfect. Meteorologists simply did not see this storm coming.
According to excerpts from the teletype sent out by the Weather Bureau:
9:45 am Jan 25 - Cloudy chance of snow especially in the afternoon
3:45 pm Jan 25 - Cloudy with rain or snow likely. Friday: rain or snow probably ending.
9:45 pm Jan 25 - Snow mixed with freezing rain likely.
3:45 am Jan 26 - Heavy snow warning with accumulations of four inches or more by this afternoon.
Tonight: snow diminishing or ending.
9:45 am Jan 26 - Heavy snow warning
An additional 4 to 8 inches remainder of today with snow diminishing and ending tonight
Initial prediction was for only a chance of snow. Just before the snow started, four inches was predicted. An additional 4 to 8 after it had already snowed almost five hours. They simply did not know.
It started snowing in Chicago at 5:02 A.M. on Thursday, January 26th. At one point late that morning, snow was accumulating at two inches per hour. Heavy snow continued until around 4 A.M. on Friday. The snow finally stopped falling on the city at 10:10 A.M., 29 hours after it had begun.
That Friday morning Chicago arose to see their city not only blanketed in snow but buried in it, literally and actually buried under twenty-three inches of snow. Most streets were completely blocked. Snow drifted as high as six feet. Cars abandoned and often no longer visible. Buses and trucks spread out helter-skelter along the streets like a child’s toys after a game of crash-em-up. The city was almost but not quite completely immobilized.
The only thing running that day, beside the snowplows, was the “L”. This is Chicago-speak for the division of the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) that is part subway and part elevated train, i.e. part of your trip is elevated and the rest is underground. It can’t snow underground and above ground the snow falls through the open, no flooring, train tracks. The rest of the CTA system was crippled. The buses and the street cars were stopped. Street cars had better traction than buses but, constrained to their straight track, couldn’t drive around anything. And cars were abandoned everywhere. The majority of cars being driven that day eventually got to a point of total obstruction or complete loss of traction. Buses were as bad off as the cars if not worse. It has been estimated that up to automobiles were stranded during and shortly after that 23 inches fell upon the city. Buses slid sideways into snow banks and blocked entire streets. Other buses encountered streets made impassable by abandoned cars. Some buses merely ran out of fuel. Bus drivers tried in vain but eventually just sought shelter.
That Thursday, thousands of Chicagoans were stranded at the airports. Ten foot drifts covered Midway. O’Hare had eight feet and was shut down at noon. The vast majority of commuters were stuck in the city. Hotels were sold out. A dozen babies had to be born at home.
My father, who lived about four miles from work, drove home after leaving early. He continually and relentlessly made a u-turn and rerouted each time he turned into an impassable street. He finally arrived home after an eight hour tour of the north side of Chicago. He was one of the lucky drivers. He made it.
On Friday a few hundred, maybe a couple of thousand, made it downtown the same way I did. They walked to the “L” station and took the train. Since the “L” was just about the only thing moving, you might have thought that the stations and the trains would be packed. Not so. Most people probably had more than enough excuse to stay home. The trains were no more crowded than normal.
That day after the storm, downtown was a unique and awesome sight as snowplows motored south down Michigan Avenue four across. Giant snowplows running four abreast, each passing mounds of snow to their right, one to the other, as they cleared the entire west side of the street in one pass. Snow banks lined both sides of this famous avenue with only an occasional break created so brave citizens might cross its wide expanse. A sight to be seen only once in a lifetime.
Chicago is indeed the ‘Windy City’. During the storm winds gusted to 53 miles an hour. As the cleanup began, these high winds continued and helped rearrange the snowdrifts. What snowplows had cleared was sometimes put back right where it had been. Cleanup incurred additional hindrance from the thousands of cars and hundreds of buses that had to be moved in order to plow through the mountains of snow.
The Saturday after the storm many streets were still impassable, cars still buried. Some streets were passable despite cars abandoned at the curb two and three abreast. The CTA had been able to restart most of their bus routes, but the city would be many more days digging out from a storm of this magnitude.
It snowed four more inches on Wednesday. The following Sunday, another storm added almost ten inches. A total of 36.5 inches of snow fell on the city from January 26th through February 5th.
At first they dumped the plowed snow into the Chicago River. But this unprecedented accumulation was simply too much for just one river. Plan B was invoked and empty railroad coal cars were filled with snow and sent to various out of state locations.
Some of this snow was still on the ground until the middle of March.
This was and still is the greatest single storm ever to fall on the city of Chicago. The damage, the costs, and the hardships were somewhere between tremendous and incredible. The memories everlasting and the pictures, if you have any, almost priceless.