Forty-four years ago, Windy City residents were told to expect just a light dusting of snow overnight, maybe reaching four inches in accumulation. The experts were just a bit off. Rich Samuels has archived the NBC news footage from that evening, where you can see a sheepish weatherman admit that he was blindsided by the force of the storm. In all, 23 inches fell over a 24-hour period, still the largest single snowfall ever. Because commuters were so ill-prepared for the conditions, 50,000 cars and 800 CTA buses were just straight-up abandoned on the roads:
“It came over the plains like a swollen fist, scooped up all of Chicago and casually tangled it in knots. The stricken metropolis lay gasping, barely able to move. The storm swatted it, slugged it, smashed it, crushed it in 75 million tons of snow.
This week’s hubbub made me realize how badly I take for granted modern snow removal technology. As a kid, my folks had a snow blower, albeit one that spewed exhaust so strong it frequently gave me headaches. The city now operates plows that clear our streets relatively efficiently. (Michael Bilandic taught everyone downtown a firm lesson.) Imagine how stressed we'd have been in 1855, when Chicago was literally cut off from the outside world for a week because of snowfall. From Blake McKelvey’s Snow In The Cities:
With three engines in line, the Galena Railroad endeavored to break though the drifts but made only eight miles before returning for the night. Chicago’s streets were “well blocked up, … awnings and signs torn from their fastenings … and roofs caved in” by the weight of three feet of snow. ‘Nobody braved the fury of the gale who could stay indoors,' reported the Chicago Daily Press.”
Like our municipal ancestors, I’m going to try my damndest to avoid the “fury of the gale.” I hope y’all can, too.