A Look Back At 3 Of Chicago’s Worst Blizzards

CHICAGO (CBS) — As Chicago prepares for a blizzard that could leave more than 18 inches of snow in some areas, the inevitable comparisons are being drawn to some of the city’s most notorious snowstorms in past years.

Here is a look back at three particularly memorable blizzards of the past 50 years.

Jan. 26-27, 1967
Mayor Richard J. Daley was finishing his third term in office. The Prudential Building was still the city’s tallest, with the John Hancock Center still under construction. Rush Street was the place to see and be seen, Old Town was teeming with hippies and folkies, and the Union Stockyards were still bringing their familiar stench to much of the South Side.

And the city was clobbered with a snowstorm that to this day is the largest in the city’s history.

HISTORY: The 10 Worst Snowstorms In Chicago

Two days earlier, the temperature had hit a record 65 degrees. The forecast for the day called only or a modest amount of snow.

But starting in the early morning hours on Jan. 26, the blizzard began dumping snow at a rate of 2 inches per hour. Wind gusted to 53 mph, as snow drifted 6 feet in some areas. When it was all over, there were 23 inches of snow on the ground.

blizzard3 cropped A Look Back At 3 Of Chicagos Worst Blizzards

A police car is stalled at the Michigan Avenue entrance to Lake Shore Drive on Jan. 27, 1967. (Credit: Chicago Sun-Times)

Thousands of people spent the night in hotels, hospitals and fire stations. There were thousands of cars, trucks and CTA buses abandoned and left in the snowbound streets and on the expressways.

More snow fell over the next 10 days, grinding cars, buses and air traffic to a halt.

“I was almost 10 years old when this happened, and I can remember buses and cars stranded on Lake Shore Drive. People were walking in the middle of busy streets,” CBS 2’s Jim Williams said back in 2007. “I have never seen a snowstorm like this.”

Some of the estimated 75 million tons of snow was sent south to Florida by rail, for children who had never seen snow, according to the Chicago Public Library.

Sixty deaths were attributed to the storm – mostly heart attacks caused by shoveling snow – but one young girl was accidentally shot and killed by police who were trying to take down looters, according to the Chicago Public Library. A total of 273 looters were arrested.

Jan. 13-14, 1979
Disco was playing up and down the radio dial. The Art Institute of Chicago was celebrating its 100th anniversary. At 10 o’clock, Chicagoans were tuning into Bill and Walter on Channel 2.

Today, the snowstorm that struck Chicago those January days is best remembered for costing Mayor Michael Bilandic his bid for re-election.

Between 7 and 10 inches of snow were already on the ground, after an earlier blizzard the previous New Year’s Eve. More snow began to fall with a vengeance on the night of Jan. 12, and it kept piling up until 2 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 14.

The new snowstorm alone topped out with 18.8 inches on the ground.

Blizzard Of 1979

Chicago was paralyzed after the infamous blizzard in January 1979. (Credit: CBS)

Motorists found themselves snowed in, and transportation was rendered impossible. Chicagoans fought over parking spaces, and so many pieces of furniture were put out to reserve freshly-dug spots that resale merchants began prowling the streets for them.

The snow also damaged brakes and motors on CTA ‘L’ trains, leaving many train cars disabled as otherwise-stranded Chicagoans crammed into the ones that were left. Transportation came to a standstill all around the city.

The snowstorm was even powerful enough to destroy buildings. On Fullerton Avenue near DePaul University, the Lakeshore Racquet Club was destroyed and had to be rebuilt from scratch.

But it was the aftermath that angered Chicagoans most. Snow wasn’t being cleared, garbage was piling up, and days after the snowstorm, transportation remained anemic. Some people’s cars were stuck in the snow for the rest of the winter.

As frustration mounted, Chicagoans placed the blame squarely on Mayor Bilandic’s administration. Chicagoans from every part of the city charged him with failing to keep the streets plowed. In particular, the Chicago Sun-Times recalled, African-American leaders were infuriated that express ‘L’ trains were bypassing West Side neighborhoods as they headed from downtown to the western suburbs during the snowstorm.

Columnist Mike Royko, then with the Sun-Times, remarked that city crews didn’t have a clue about dealing with snow, because their skills revolved around cranking out votes on Election Day.

As the criticism swelled, Bilandic was contrite.

“We all learn from our mistakes. I’ve made them, and I freely admit it,” he said in a 1979 news conference.

But that wasn’t enough.

In the mayoral primary the following month, challenger Jane Byrne focused on the snowstorm as she campaigned against Bilandic. She even taped a commercial with snowflakes falling around her, the Tribune recalled.

Byrne went on to win the 1979 primary in a landslide, and won the general election in April. She served one term before being ousted by Harold Washington in 1983.

Jan. 1-3, 1999
You could still rent VHS tapes at your local Blockbuster Video. The CD Walkman and the Palm Pilot were likely your favorite electronic accessories. Michael Jordan’s run with the Bulls had ended, and Chicagoans had turned their adoration toward Sammy Sosa and the Cubs. Mayor Richard M. Daley was preparing to coast to another landslide victory for a fourth term in office, despite a strong challenge from U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush.

And on New Year’s weekend, the city was socked with a snowstorm that left 21.6 inches on the ground over its two-day wrath. On Saturday, Jan. 2, alone, it dumped 18.6 inches of snow on the ground –- the greatest single-day snowfall ever recorded in Chicago.

cbs snow 1999 A Look Back At 3 Of Chicagos Worst Blizzards

A Chicago motorist digs out of the snowstorm that hit in January, 1999. (CBS)

Winds gusted at more than 60 mph, creating an eerie scene of shadows struggling through a cloud of whipping snow. Trees rocked, flags whipped, dumpsters were toppled, and those who dared to enter out were slapped and pelted in the face.

CTA buses and ‘L’ trains ran normally, but with severe delays. Lake Shore Drive was shut down altogether for the first time in history, and Interstate 65 in Northwest Indiana was also closed.

School was supposed to resume after winter break that Monday, but as arctic cold followed the snow, opening the city’s schools proved impossible.

Chicago Public Schools and Roman Catholic schools shut down on both Monday, Jan. 4, and Tuesday, Jan. 5. Even if students had wanted to go to school, in many neighborhoods they would have had a hard time getting to the front door with all the snow piled up.

Many colleges and universities resumed classes as usual, but lecture halls were hardly filled to capacity. At the University of Chicago, some dormitory resident heads said less than half of their students had returned, the student newspaper the Chicago Weekly News reported on Jan. 7, 1999.

In the Chicago area, the snowstorm was blamed for at least 43 deaths, from heart attacks while shoveling snow, exposure to cold, and other factors.

  • julie meyer

    as for the first one we were freshmen,sent home from school at 10:00 am. 2nd one dad worked 36 hours straight plowing snow for the city. snowmolbiles were the only mode of transportation down 120. remember the movies of you on the snowpile at the park? The next 1 you remember as having the cruelest parents ever… all your friends were having a blast in the city & you were stuck here!

  • Bridget Lufrano Campbell

    I was 4 when the first snow hit in 69 and I remember looking out the kitchen window and to the top of the window it was solid snow. you couldn’t see out the window we had the 6 foot gusts that covered our entire 1st floor apartment.

  • http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2011/01/30/blizzard-may-bring-18-inches-of-snow-to-city/ Blizzard May Bring 18 Inches Of Snow To City « CBS Chicago

    […] HISTORY: A Look Back At Chicago’s Worst Storms […]

  • Vicky

    Hope the kids get a bunch of snow days!

    • No Snow

      What will the upstanding mothers of Chicago do with their children if the babysitter (CPS) is closed?

      • Nancy

        I’m not Vicky, but as someone who was a 4 year old in the blizzard of 69, I can only say, “Let them play!!!”

        I realize you probably still have to work; but if you have a sick day, take it. Christmases all blend together, but a blizzard stays with you forever. Just look at all the replies here from the kids then. They’ll even want to help you shovel.

        Get the bundled up, take them outside and take pictures. Get them inside and make Snickerdoodles and hot chocolate. These days are golden and should be treated as such if at all possible.

  • Dale Merklin

    I lived through all 3 of these storms, the 67 storm was great because I was a kid and it was a kids paradise. We had a snow drift that almost reach the top of a swing set we had in the backyard. The 79 storm was really something, the whole winter was bad. I worked for a school district and spent many days up on the roofs blowing snow off so that they wouldn’t collapse. By the time the 99 storm hit, I was a full blown Chicago winter veteran and it was pretty much SO WHAT! The thing about the 67 & 79 storms is that the snow hung around ALL WINTER

  • miriam

    I n 1969 i was 10 years old and i remember that snow storm we had we still have pictures from that storm.

  • Phil Levato

    We Actually Remember the Blizzard of 1999 Very well. We worked 145 Hours Straight and 32 days in a row without one day off. It was challenging to say the least but we made it through the Storm and made most of our Clients happy. We learned a lot from this storm and made huge changes in the Business operations and Blizzard response plans.

  • http://www.localsearchandfind.net/s/Chicago-Weather-10-Day-Forecast Local Search and Find

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  • Mary Connell


  • HeorShe

    Who likes snow days more, teachers or students? TEACHERS! :) What a gift to be able to stay home with a pot of coffee and a book. BRING IT!!

  • Neesoj

    1999 we showed up for HRBlock training, which as usual they neglected to tell us was cancelled….so we watched it start to pile up, and we went to ‘marshal fields for lunch, they said they were closing at 1pm to let employees go home…after lunch we went to 600 N Mich for movie we saw 3 shows in a row cos eacht ime we came out there was more snow…but I refused to watch the shark movie, when one of the first lines from Sam Jackson was “So what you’re telling me, Dr, is that these Sharks can Think?” oh no…different movie! hahaha

  • SnowWhat2011

    I remember the big storm of ’67. I was in 7th grade & a student at a Chicago Public School. We were all thrilled that it finally snowed enough for us to actually have a snow day! Chicago Public Schools rarely close, as everyone knows. We lived on a main street, right next to a grocery store so milk & bread were never an issue. Of course, there was a Wonder Bread truck stranded right outside our front door! The storm of ’79 wasn’t nearly as much fun. It took me 3 hrs. to get home from work that day (only worked about 3 miles from home) & when I got home I had to use a dustpan to shovel my way into my parking spot at my apartment because it wasn’t plowed! As for the storm of ’99, I had my own kids by then who DID get a couple of snow days! They had a blast, but, I was stuck in the house with some holiday guests who had already been with us too long, but, their flight out of O’Hare was canceled so they had to stay another couple of days! As for this storm that’s suppose to be hitting us…….I guess I am just hoping that the weather people are wrong….like they are most of the time!! But, if it does snow, I know that it’s gonna melt eventually & it’ll be time to get outside & start pulling last years’ weeds out of my garden.

  • http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2011/01/31/blizzard-vs-snowstorm-whats-the-difference/ Blizzard vs. Snowstorm: What’s The Difference? « CBS Chicago

    […] Tuesday’s storm has the makings of a true blizzard–with strong winds and lots of snow. The worst blizzard to hit Chicago happened in January, 1967 when nearly two feet of snow fell and winds howled up to 50 mph and created drifts as high as 10 […]

  • Dan Rakow

    Steve Baskerville is the only Meteorologist at CBS 2 Chicago was there for last major blizzard in 99 and the other were Steve Deshler who was on duty that Saturday and Monty Webb did the Weekday Morning Weather at CBS2 at the time.

  • george

    i hope all of you get through this storm with your health… a former member of Illinois…

  • Freddy

    ’67 was so bad because neither the city nor any of the suburbs were well equipped to handle a storm of that magnitude. Also, as the article said, no one expected the storm to be much more than a few inches so most were caught off guard and since nothing moved much for a few days, a semi panic set in for some folks. We are much better prepared and equipped today so something like ’67 is much less likely to happen again.

    The ’99 storm is like a fish story, the totals grow with each telling. It was a significant storm but more like in the 12-15” range for most of the area. I had to laugh when I heard the official storm total was 17” back then. Now I see it’s grown to 21’+. Go figure. I guess it stands to reason though. All the media kept questioning back then, was whether the city would rise to handle the storm, or fail like in ’79. Well the city handled it just fine but I guess it just wouldn’t due for Richie to have over seen the successful handling of any old mediocre storm, now would it?

  • http://www.takeinwintergarden.com/?p=755 A Look Back At 3 Of Chicago's Worst Blizzards « CBS Chicago | Winter Garden

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  • Miss Macy

    I remember two of the three snowstorms (I was living in California by 1999). The first one, 1967, I was a high school junior in Skokie. It was finals week. I remember walking home from the school bus around 1 p.m. in hip-deep snow, which hadn’t been forecast because I was only wearing knee socks and loafers. No boots! The cars on our driveway at home were buried under 12-foot drifts that left both vehicles with four flat tires. The 1979 snowstorm left me stranded in my apartment in Chicago, on a side street that never got plowed. I was stranded at home and nearly penniless because I couldn’t get to my suburban bank to cash a check … there was no such thing as ATM machines in those days! I recall every car parked on the street being buried under five feet of drifted snow. I never felt so suffocated in my entire life. Holy cow.

  • Cathy

    For the ’67 storm, I was 10, attending a Chicago Catholic School. We had a Science Fair in the evening, and they must have sent us home early. I remember my next-door neighbor had to carry me part of the way home, because I couldn’t walk through the snow. For the ’79 storm, I had just had my wedding the week before the storm. I was safely in Southern Illinois a week later, when the storm hit. I was on the phone with my mother, and she said “You’re so lucky the wedding wasn’t this weekend, then the line went dead. We had 10 inches of snow in Southern Illinois, and the University was closed for 3 days. My friends and family kept sending me newspaper clippings of the snow in Chicago. For the ’99 storm, my husband had talked me into going to Northern WI for Winter Break. I thought we’d get “snowed in” up there, but never dreamed we’d get “snowed out” of Chicago!

  • Sharyn

    I was 7 months pregnant when the ’67 storm hit. We were living in an apartment in Hillside and my husband was stuck in the parking lot in the back so I tried to help push all the while seeing neighbors peeking out of their curtains. It was horrible.

  • http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2011/02/01/chicago-blizzard-2011-what-you-need-to-know/ Chicago Blizzard 2011: What You Need To Know « CBS Chicago

    […] Worst Snowstorms: Where will this storm rank? Click here for the 10 worst snowfalls in Chicago history. And here is a look at three of the worst blizzards. […]

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  • JoAnn

    I remember the 1967 snow storm fondly. My mother, sister Cindy and I took the sled to the local grocery store (a mile away) to buy groceries.

    I also remember exiting the house from the kitchen window, via the sink, as the doors were blocked up by snow.

    Back then people did not dread the snowstorms like they do today. They stayed in and enjoyed one another’s company.

    Those were the good ole days!

    • Bob

      Those were the days. I do remember my Mom sending my brother and I to a small neighborhood store 4 blocks down the street to get bread and milk. It was fun and a challenge. We survived that “Great”one “1967” and we will do the same tomorrow “2011”.

  • Bob

    I was 16 Yrs old during the 67 blizzard. In 1967, there were no computers or weather satellites to give us a warning of what was to become the Greatest Blizzared in Chicago history. If we get 30 inches of snow tomorrow at least we were warned 3 days before. In 1967, there was no warning. That makes the 67 blizzared the greatest of all.

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