Big snow flashback--the blizzard of 1967

Big snow flashback--the blizzard of 1967
1967 Chicago Tribune Archives

Hello, Chicago!  Today, more  snow, and subzero.  Latest totals are 29.5 inches at O’Hare for January. That’s more  than January 1967 or 1999!

The blizzard of 1967 is still  the largest single snow event  in Chicago history. It was the Big Snow. During  35 hours on January  26-27, a total of  23 inches of snow fell on the city and suburbs.

Two days before, on Tuesday, January 24, the temperature was unseasonably mild. It was a balmy 65 degrees, with rain.  Wednesday, temperatures started dropping. Snow began falling on Thursday, January 26 at 5:02 a.m. and kept falling until  4 p.m. on Friday, January 27.

According to the Chicago Tribune, there was little or no advance warning. Thousands of downtown workers were stranded trying to get home. Both O’Hare and Midway  shut down. Hundreds of CTA busses and thousands of cars were abandoned, blocking the streets. Roofs collapsed under the weight of the snow. The city came to a standstill.  Long lines formed at grocery stores. There was looting. There were 26 deaths from the snow, including a 10-year-old girl who was accidentally caught in the cross-fire between police and looters and a minister who was run over by a snowplow. Several others died of heart attacks from shoveling snow.

Drifting, blowing snow piled  as high as 10 feet.  Schools were closed for days. As you can see from the photo above, these  kids had a great  time.

Here are some more photos from the Tribune archives.

Could this be the memory of snow we carry with us, the kind of winters we remember?   A “real” winter? Snow piled higher than cars.  Even those born since then have seen pictures and heard stories about the Great Blizzard of 1967.

Think of it in context of  the  mid-60’s, too–Lyndon Johnson was President. Richard Daley, Sr. was Mayor. The Viet Nam War was going on. Martin Luther King, Jr. would speak out against the war in April of 1967.

The number 1 song on the Billboard charts for the week of January 26 was “I’m a Believer ” by the Monkees. The Beatles, the Supremes and the Rolling Stones  were  also popular. Mini skirts were the latest style.

This was before Woodstock, the first Moon landing, the ’68 Convention. There had been riots on  the West Side the summer before.  There were no  cell phones, except on Star Trek, which premiered in 1966. This was before microprocessors and personal computers. A first class stamp cost 5 cents.

There was a Woolworth’s on State Street, then. And Marshall Fields. Marina City, built in 1963, was a marvel of modern city living. The Picasso statue in Daley Plaza would be dedicated in August of 1967.

The Chicago Cubs roster that year included  Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins and Ron Santo. The Chicago Blackhawks had Phil Esposito, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.

Many winters have passed since then, and blizzards.  We have the internet, now. We have Doppler Radar.

Could the Blizzard of 1967 happen again?  Well, call it Snowpocalypse or Snowmageddon, the Ground Hog Day Blizzard of 2011 brought almost as much snow as the Blizzard of 1967. A total of 20 inches was reported at O’Hare.

Because of the state-of-the art forecasting, many downtown offices closed early, and people were able to get home before the storm hit. Yet, even with  advance warning, cars were still stranded on Lake Shore Drive. Cell phones ran out of power. Fake Twitter account @RahmEmanuel  was tweeting from the hood of a snowplow on Lake Shore Drive.  And who could forget the THUNDERSNOW?

Real Rahm Emanuel is the Mayor, now. We are more prepared for snow storms, today. We have snow plows and snowmobiles, snow blowers and snow shovels. We have antifreeze. We have better cell phones.

Chicago Weather Center  reports “cumulative seasonal snowfall of 44.8 inches, and counting. That’s 260 percent of Chicago’s normal season-to-date snowfall (17.2 inches) and 122 percent of the city’s normal full-season total of 36.7 inches. In 130 years of official snowfall data, only two winters have had more snow through Jan. 21: 1951-52 with 54.0 inches and 1978-79 with 66.3 inches.”

Yes, we’re getting some big snow this year.  I’d say  it’s been a real winter, so far!   This is one to remember.


Want to read more about the beauties and challenges of winter?  Here are some gifts of winter. This is why we live here.





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Filed under: seasons, weather

Tags: Big snow


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  • The main difference between this winter and 1967 and 2011 is that it didn't all come down at one time. This might be more comparable to 1979, but I wasn't around here at that time (I was at a place that got twice what Chicago did--2 winters of near 160 inches). I remember here in 1976-1977 on the basis that my window froze reliably when the temperature hit 0 or below, and it was frozen for quite a while.

    I was here in 1999, but only remember that there were 20 inches and I couldn't get out until the snow plow contractor got in. 1967 was much more vivid.

    As you note, the main differences are better radar (and forecasting methods; it was only a few years ago that it was said that weather even evaded Chaos theory) and better realization that Streets and San should do its job, something cities in snowier climates figured out long ago, but not so much here (and certainly not at Metra).

    Also, some people remember when Sears was on State St., and I mean "and Van Buren" not "and Madison." Also, when a building was "Goldblatt's," not DePaul.

  • In reply to jack:

    Hey, Jack, thanks for reading! I was thinking of you when I wrote this. Sure was fun to go back to then, and how much has happened since then.

    Better forecasting, for sure, and Chaos theory. And warning people to stay off the Drive!

    You're so right about Metra and snow handling this year.

    Thanks for remembering Sears at Van Buren and Goldblatt's, too.

  • That snowstorm is one of my favorite childhood memories. I was old enough to just have fun and not old enough to worry.

  • Thanks for reading, Kathy--and remembering. Do you have pictures?

    Maybe it's just too cold for kids, and grown-ups, to enjoy all the snow this year...

  • My family always referred to it as Snow Flurries of 67. My parents said that the weather report predicted snow flurries :D

    (Your story says four inches were expected. In Chicago, that would be snow flurries; down here in Texas that would be a blizzard!)

    Anyhow, I remember that day for one real good reason: we already had that day scheduled off from school (though we also got the Friday because of the snow). It wasn't school that was cancelled but a rare trip to Ford City (one of the first indoor shopping malls).

    Fun story. Brought back memories.

  • In reply to GreenStreet:

    Thank you so much for reading, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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