It was called Snowzilla, the Snowpocalyspe, and Snowmageddon. If you were in Chicago, you will never forget the Groundhog Day Blizzard. It began on February 1 and lasted through February 2, 2011.
Chicago experienced as much as two feet of snow and blizzard conditions, with winds of over 60 mph. The official record at O’Hare Airport was 21.2 inches of snow, the third largest snowstorm in Chicago history.
There were 11 snow-related deaths reported in Illinois. NOAA reports 38 deaths from the massive winter storm that spanned Texas to Eastern Canada.
Due to the high winds, there was considerable drifting. Some snow drifts were over 5 feet high. Hundreds of cars were stranded on Lake Shore Drive. There were flight delays and school closings. There was thundersnow.
I remember February 1 was a Tuesday. It was a work day, a school day. Many downtown offices and businesses closed early. The Art Institute of Chicago (where I worked at the time) also closed early, and we stood at the corner of Michigan and Adams wondering how bad the storm would be. We wished each other safe travels home.
The storm had been forecast for days, and the snow was expected to arrive in the Chicago area at 2:30 in the afternoon. As I got off the Blue Line train at Oak Park , the sign on the bank was flashing 2;30, and the first flakes of snow were beginning to fall. For people trying to get anywhere later that afternoon, there would be considerable travel problems.
Snow continued falling heavily throughout the evening. It was beautiful, and terrifying. The strong winds created whiteout conditions. It was a true blizzard, with wind gusts as high as 70 mph at the lakefront. Here are the wind measurements from the National Weather Service.
That night, I was shoveling the back doorway every couple of hours to keep it from drifting shut. The wind was so strong, it nearly blew off the screen door. There was lightning and thunder, too. It was thundersnow!
Meanwhile, on Lake Shore Drive, people had been trapped on CTA busses and stranded in their cars for hours. They were afraid to leave their cars. Snowplows and fire trucks came to their aid. It was bad, but it could have been so much worse. Snowmobiles came to the rescue. No doubt, lives were saved.
The following morning, the snow was still coming down, and it was a different world. There were no outlines of sidewalks or streets, steps, porches, cars. Everything was covered in snow. It was a rolling expanse of white, with wave patterns from the wind, like sand dunes. It was the most snow I had ever seen at one time.
I remember shoveling for two days. There was so much snow, I had to shovel in layers, and go slow. It was not heavy, wet snow, but there was so much of it! Some of the drifts in the alley were over my head. The heroic snowblower warriors were having a difficult time handling all that snow.
Everyone came together and helped with the digging out. Even tiny kids and teenagers got into the spirit. There was considerable joking and good humor.
What to do with all that snow? There were mountains in the parking lots. There were mountains at the street corners. According to the National Weather Service, it was over two weeks before the mountains melted.
It’s been five years since the Groundhog Day Blizzard. What do you remember? The snow mountains, the stranded cars on Lake Shore Drive? The wind and whiteout conditions? The thundersnow?
Here is a gallery of more photos from the Chicago Tribune.
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