(CBS) — Fifty years ago, Chicago was in the middle of its biggest snowstorm ever.
Over 29 straight hours, a record 23 inches of snow fell, whipped up by 50 mph winds. It paralyzed the city for days.
CBS 2’s Jim Williams lived through it. He explains what Chicago does today to prepare for the type of blizzard that hobbled the city on Jan. 26 and 27 of 1967.
Bob and Suz Erklin share home-movie footage they filmed and reflect what so many felt during the Blizzard of 1967.
Suz says it was “scary,” but Bob calls it “fun.”
It was fun for their children, perhaps, but it was also dangerous for Chicagoans. Some fire engines, for example, were snowed into their stations.
Just after a record high 65-degree day, the blizzard caught Chicagoans off-guard. Crooked lines of cars and buses were trapped in snow. Police had to rescue drivers who ran out gas. Snow removal crews were simply overwhelmed.
It remains Chicago’s biggest winter storm.
Williams’ enduring image of the great snowstorm was on 83rd Street where he grew up. His father was a Chicago police officer, and there was no staying home for him. He walked to work, for miles, on street with no traffic.
Today, if a similar event occurred, Chicago would be in a much better position, says Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams. That’s because of satellites and computers, he says.
“We usually know how much is coming and it gives us an opportunity to prepare much better,” he says.
Streets and San drivers have cellphones, their trucks have GPS, and cameras and road sensors are scattered throughout the city.
Back in 1967, no one knew beet juice could fight snow. Driver John Stanukinos drops it now.
“As the snow falls onto it, it can’t bond onto the pavement,” he says.
As Bob and Suz Erklin recall, a half century ago they had something timeless.
“I think what an amazing time it was because everybody came together,” Suz Erklin says.
For young people, descriptions of the Great Snow of ’67 might sound like an exaggeration — a tall tale that’s grown over time.