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Today’s Near-Record Warmth A Stark Contrast To One Year Ago

In the photo on the left, runners and cyclists enjoy springlike weather on Chicago's lakefront jogging and bike path, with temperatures near 60 degrees on Jan. 31, 2012. In the image on the right, one year earlier on Feb. 1, 2011, a Chicago firefighter talks to one of hundreds of motorists who ended up stranded on Lake Shore Drive as a blizzard dumped nearly two feet of snow on the city. (Credit: CBS)

In the photo on the left, runners and cyclists enjoy springlike weather on Chicago’s lakefront jogging and bike path, with temperatures near 60 degrees on Jan. 31, 2012. In the image on the right, one year earlier on Feb. 1, 2011, a Chicago firefighter talks to one of hundreds of motorists who ended up stranded on Lake Shore Drive as a blizzard dumped nearly two feet of snow on the city. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 01/31/12 5:39 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — One year ago, Chicago was bracing for a blizzard that eventually shut down Lake Shore Drive and forced hundreds of drivers to abandon their cars on the lakefront.

Today, there wasn’t a flake of snow in sight as the Chicago area reveled in temperatures nearing 60 degrees.

On Jan. 31 last year, there was already an inch of snow on the ground before a major blizzard hit the next afternoon. The temperature topped out at 26 degrees on this date last year, compared to today’s official high temperature of 57 degrees in Chicago.

It seems like a distant memory now, doesn’t it?

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CBS 2 Meteorologist Megan Glaros says temperatures this Tuesday, Jan. 31, will be not only well above average, but way above average. The temperature tops out at an estimated 58 degrees, and could even top 60 in some areas, particularly to the south.

As CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez reports, it was warm enough for many Chicagoans to head out for a run or a bike ride in their shorts and for kids to venture into the sandboxes and play on the swingsets of local parks.

Normally, this time of year, kids venture outside to build snowmen and take part in snowball fights.

“This is amazing. Everybody in the playground just can’t believe it,” said Judith Belofsky, who moved back to Chicago from California several years ago.

Dexter Brown said, “It’s very odd. I’m really surprised that it’s feeling this good right now. “

A year ago, lakefront parks were hardly ideal spots for a daytime visit, with a major blizzard bearing down on the city on Feb. 1, eventually forcing the city to shut down Lakeshore Drive after hundreds of drivers got stranded in the snow.

Blizzard 2011: Your Photos From The Storm

Over three days, the blizzard dumped 21.2 inches of snow on Chicago, the third largest snowfall from a single storm in Chicago history.

Today, just a few feet from Lake Shore Drive, there were plenty of people running and biking on the lakefront path in shorts and t-shirts. Pedestrian traffic was up all over the city.

Andy Craycraft said he certainly wouldn’t be out running in shorts and a t-shirt on most days in January.

“It’s amazing,” Craycraft said. “I got to this yesterday, so two in a row is pretty phenomenal. I’m very thankful.”

Sonal Gandhi might have had him beat, running in a tank-top and spandex shorts. She said she wasn’t chilly at all.

“Not after you start running. It definitely gets warmer,” she said. She started her run wearing a jacket, but had to take it off halfway through.

Gandhi said she was headed for the treadmill at first, but decided to take advantage of the springlike temperatures.

Call it an early spring break. A group of architecture students brought their classroom outside.

Tasheica Lindsay said it was the first time they’ve been able to hold class outdoors this winter.

“This is the first time, since the weather is so good; thank God,” Lindsay said.

Lakefront visitor Romaine Michelle said, “I’d figure out any kind of way to be out here on a day like today. I’m very sick.”

Even as the morning rush began at 6:45 a.m., temperatures were in the mid- to upper 40s around the area. By 11 a.m., the temperature was 54 at O’Hare and Midway international airports.

The only disappointment is that much of the afternoon has been overcast and windy and rain might be coming later in the day as a cold front comes through in the late afternoon. The chance of showers is 30 percent.

The cold front will cut the temperatures for Wednesday, but only to the still pleasant mid-40s.

Through the work week, the highs will remain in the 40s – 44 on Wednesday, 41 on Thursday, and 40 on Friday. The highs drop back into the 30s for the weekend, but remain above the 32-degree average for this time of year, with a forecast high of 35 on Saturday and 36 on Sunday.

And while no major snow is in the long range forecast, we have to remember that winter won’t be over for some time to come.

Here’s some food for thought – the record high for this date is 65 degrees, set in 1989. That same year, Chicago got socked with half an inch of snow on May 6.