It appears we are experiencing another mild January, just like last year. We have had several days in the 50s this month. They resemble cold, spring days but nothing like winter.
But when this is mentioned to a person of a certain age, a look of trepidation crosses their faces. Invariably they will mention: “Remember when it was in the 60s and a couple of days later we had the great snowstorm?”
Yes, the blizzard of 1967. Anyone who was a youngster in those days remembers the snowstorm. This is a case where those of us who lived through those couple of days are not exaggerating.
Today is the 50th anniversary of that blizzard. We have had some major blasts since then. The snowstorm of 1979 helped elevate Jane Byrne, who had little cash to campaign, to defeat the Machine candidate Michael Bilandic for mayor of Chicago. Bilandic was supposed just keep the seat warm after Richard J. Daley died for his son, Richard M. Daley, to eventually take his place. The rest is history as the snow came and Bilandic and the city were caught off guard. Byrne seized the opportunity.
We had a major snowstorm from Feb. 1 to Feb. 2, 2011. No one saw the groundhog’s shadow that day. Heck, no one could find the groundhog.
But the blizzard that ripped through Chicago and the suburbs in 1967 was different. And it is true that two days before the blizzard – Tuesday, Jan. 24, 1967 – the temperature had reached 65 degrees. The temperatures were mostly mild that whole month.
In those days, we did not have Doppler radar. Each TV station now has five or six weather forecasters. The majority of them are meteorologists. The forecasts are quite accurate today as opposed to 50 years ago. The original forecast the day before called for it to be cloudy on that fateful Thursday with a chance of snow, especially in the afternoon. The high was supposed to be near 30 with a 50 percent chance of precipitation.
The weather forecast changed very little that day before the blizzard. Later in the day, one forecast said there would be a 90 percent chance of snow but was not calling for anything major.
The first warning sign came at 3:45 a.m. Thursday, Jan 26. It was calling for a “heavy snow warning.” But even that report was calling for accumulations of four inches of snow or more by the afternoon. Noting in that report suggested what was actually going to happen.
I don’t recall anything out of the ordinary that morning. It was snowing but we had heard that it finally was going to just that. I believe we had a full day to school. And I do recall mentioning to friends on the way home that it is snowing hard.
Of course, I had never seen anything quite like it later that day. It just kept coming and coming. According to weather reports, the heaviest snow fell in the morning and early afternoon with the maximum rate of accumulation of two inches per hour during the late morning.
What was amazing to me was that the following day, the staff at St. Margaret of Scotland School at 99th and Throop Street in Chicago called off school. In those days, that was unheard of. But no one could move. Cars were buried on side streets along the city blocks. Our neighborhood store at 97th and Vincennes Avenue was called Holiday Foods. It seemed like a holiday when we walked in. The lights were dim and many of the shelves were empty.
I later went to the store with my mom. We used a sled to help carry the groceries. No vehicular traffic could be found anywhere. We just pulled that sled down the middle of the street. I helped shovel our walk when it finally stopped the following day. We helped push drivers whose cars were stuck in snowdrifts. My younger brother, Terry, and some neighborhood kids were jumping off our garage roof into the snow.
And to top it off that weekend, my father, along with my brothers and sisters, had to walk to St. Margaret’s Church so my brother, Bobby, could be baptized that Sunday. My brother was born in December under milder temperatures.
The following week, school began at 10 a.m. to provide more time for lay teachers to arrive at school. When the snow finally stopped, 23 inches had fallen on the city. In an 11-day period through Feb. 5, a grand total of 35 inches of snow was on the ground.
So, when the temperatures become mild in January, I know some adults get a little nervous. But those memories of that snowstorm are still fresh in my mind. We survived the blizzard of 1967. Let’s hope we don’t have a repeat.