40th anniversary of Chicago blizzard

Monday, January 29, 2007

Forty years ago the blizzard of 1967 hit the Chicago area with little warning. In the end, the city was buried under 23 inches of snow and 20,000 cars were abandoned across the city.

Two days before this storm hit, it was 65 degrees. There were thunderstorms and a tornado warning for late January. Then Chicago was buried. It was no wimpy snowfall that had people howling about unplowed side streets. It was the real deal, a real emergency. People had to help each other. There was no time for rage.

The blanket of white -- 23 inches of snow total -- fell for 29 hours. It began falling at 5:02 a.m. on January 26 and stopped at 10:10 a.m. on January 27. After the storm passed, Chicago was a ghost town. The roads were impassable and people couldn't get to work and those at work were stuck there.

During the blizzard, the CTA lost contact with nearly 700 buses. Those that could move were filled with masses standing nose to nose. The other option was to walk. And the walkers looked like refugees in a city torn by war -- except it was snow.

Paul Green was a grad student 40 years ago and remembers the storm of 1967 as the first time he saw people putting chairs in the street to hold parking places.

"On our little block on Lawndale Avenue every chair I mean there was no non-chair parking lot -- let me tell you that," said Paul Green, Roosevelt University Inst. for Politics.

For some, food was in short supply, and if lucky enough to find a passing milk-man, you bought from him.

"I remember they had to airlift milk and bread. People weren't angry. People were just wondering how they were going to make it," said Peggy Marie, Chicagoan.

And perhaps that's a distinction between then and now. 1967 was such a nasty wallop there wasn't rage at city hall. The mayor handily won reelection and snow removal didn't become part of the Chicago political equation until another blizzard 12 years later.

"You couldn't expect plows to get through with abandoned cars, so you couldn't blame somebody," said Rich Kalemba, Chicagoan.

But the weather service did take a bashing in 1967 because they blew the forecast.

The weather command has come a long way since then. Now we have fabulous center with the most modern technology, and nearly 100 more plows today than the city had in 1967.

"We evolved as the years have gone by and I think it's paid off," said Michael Picardi, Streets and San Commissioner.

Mike Picardi was six years old in 1967, and he remembers his dad -- an IDOT snowplow driver --being gone day and night during the great post blizzard dig-out.

Much has changed since then. There are more plows, they are sent out earlier, and the ability for the city to forecast -- while still imperfect -- is a lot more sophisticated than it was 40-years ago. And, the expectations of the public have certainly changed.

The Record Book

  • Greatest snowfall in a calendar day - 16.4 inches on January 26, 1967 (this was surpassed when 18.6 inches fell on January 2, 1999)
  • Greatest snowfall in a 24 hour period - 19.8 inches January 26-27, 1967
  • Greatest snowfall from a storm - 23.0 inches January 26-27, 1967
  • Greatest snow depth - Additional snows brought the snow depth to 27 inches by February 6, 1967. (This was surpassed when 29 inches covered the ground January 14, 1979.) A total of 36.5 inches of snow fell on the city during the 11 day period from January 26 through February 5, 1967, which is close to normal snowfall for an entire season! Snow covered the ground until March 10.
  • Greatest snowfall for a season - The winter of 1966-1967 set the record for Chicago with a total of 68.4 inches. (The record was surpassed in 1969-1970, 1977-1978, and 1978-1979.)

    Thanks to NOAA

    Read more about the 1967 storm at:

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