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Looking Back At The Blizzard Of 2011, One Year Later

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Cars are buried in snow on Lake Shore Drive after the Blizzard of 2011. (Credit: "Rock"/User Photo)

Cars are buried in snow on Lake Shore Drive after the Blizzard of 2011. (Credit: “Rock”/User Photo)

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UPDATED 02/01/12 4:33 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Temperatures have been above average all week, and the only snow in sight is the occasional oil and dirt-streaked leftover from more than a week ago.

What a difference a year makes.

GALLERY: Blizzard Of 2011: Your Photos From The Storm

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports

On this day one year ago, half a foot of snow fell in a mere six hours. Violent wind whipped as blinding snow fell sideways, peppered by the occasional thunderclap.

Dire warnings were being issued at by the mid-afternoon hours on Feb. 1, 2011. The blizzard was being called “threatening,” “treacherous,” and “historic.”

The Chicago Public Schools shut down, and businesses closed their doors early. Before long, the entire flight schedules at O’Hare and Midway international airports were canceled.

The Kennedy and Edens expressways ground to a halt, and what had been a 10-minute ride to the junction at 2 p.m. took 45 minutes two hours later.

But the worst problems were seen on Lake Shore Drive, after motorists ignored advice to stay off the roadway and ended up getting stranded in the afternoon rush. Many were stuck in their cars on the Drive all night, or even had to abandon their cars and pick them up after the city towed them later.

Even buses couldn’t make it through the ferocious blizzard on Lake Shore Drive. When CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole found a bus sitting in the middle of the Drive, he assumed the bus had been sent to help people stay warm.

“No,” the driver replied. “I’m one of the buses that was stranded.”

Gerasole was walking around in the middle of Lake Shore Drive on the morning of Feb. 2. Cars were sitting idle, and snow that crews had attempted to clear away had piled up to 7 1/2 feet along right shoulder.

Altogether, Lake Shore Drive was shut down for 33 hours.

About 900 cars were abandoned on Lake Shore Drive that night, after drivers spent hours sitting in their cars or walking around waiting to be rescued.

“There was no way people could have just abandoned their cars and walked away, particularly elderly people and so forth,” said Barry Montgomery, who was among the stranded drivers.

“One of the problems was there was really no communication. I had the radio on the whole time, but the radio kept saying ‘everybody stay in your car, stay in your car, stay in your car,’ which I did,” Montgomery said.

Rescue crews eventually arrived, but not before some well-meaning Chicagoans pitched in.

“I tell you there were more Good Samaritans out there. There were people that came by from the apartment buildings on the other side of the tracks. You know, they were dressed up like Eskimos and they had water and candy bars.”

Aleen Bayard was one of those people who lived near Lake Shore Drive and ventured out into the blizzard to lend a hand to stranded motorists.

“It was unbelievable, I mean, how many people were struck by it. I thought, all I did was bring some candy bars out there,” she said. “But … at least where I was, there was nobody else out there.”

Bayard saw the line of lights building on Lake Shore Drive and left the comfort of her warm apartment to bring food and water to dozens.

“I’ve always believed that people can make a difference and this is just a great opportunity to prove that out,” she said.

Beginning the morning after Lake Shore Drive was shut down, the city started towing away the abandoned cars and taking them to city parking lots for their owners to pick up.

In the long process of relocating the hundreds of cars, the city somehow misplaced Montgomery’s abandoned $80,000 Mercedes Benz. Because he couldn’t find the car, he thought it had been stolen.

But thanks to a report by CBS 2’s Mike Parker about Montgomery’s missing car, a viewer located the car outside of their house.

“We searched for four days or so after and it was never found and, so they did the story on TV and while it was on TV, they described the car and somebody called in and said ‘It’s been sitting out in front of my house for the last four days,’” Montgomery recalled.

Since the blizzard fiasco on Lake Shore Drive, new “turnarounds” have been created to provide an escape route during inclement weather.

In all, the blizzard dumped 21.2 inches of snow on Chicago.

That made it the third heaviest blizzard in Chicago history, outdone only by the infamous blizzard on Jan. 26-27, 1967, when 23 inches fell, and the blizzard of Jan. 1-3, 1999, which brought 21.6 inches. Even the blizzard of Jan. 13-14, 1979, which led to the ouster of Mayor Michael Bilandic, was significantly smaller, dumping only 18.8 inches – although there were already 7 to 10 inches on the ground from an earlier snowstorm that winter.

As the weather on Wednesday is concerned, the temperature should climb to 45 degrees in the afternoon with mostly cloudy skies and no precipitation, CBS 2 Meteorologist Megan Glaros says. A chance of rain and snow does not come until over the weekend.

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