Chicago winter sidewalks

The Four Worst Snowstorms in Chicago History

Midwestern winters are notoriously brutal, and after the polar vortex blasted through North America early this year, citizens are particularly anxious to batten down the hatches in preparation for the coming winter. So, just how bad are Chicago winters? Let’s look at the four worst snowstorms in Chicago history…

Although vivid memories of the February, 2015 “Super Bowl Blizzard” linger among Chicagoans, according to National Weather Service statistics, it is only the fifth worst snowstorm in the city’s history. And residents faced some of these other deluges with much less preparation.

Chicago’s Four Worst Snowstorms:

Blizzard of 1979

Photo from the Chicago Transit Authority Collection, reprinted from CTA at 45In the early weeks of 1979, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) was ill-prepared to cope with the coming storm. The agency’s snow removal equipment consisted mostly of cars fitted with small snowplows designed for up to twelve inches of snow. From January 13 to January 14, twenty-seven inches of snow accumulated, paralyzing traffic for several days.

According to Chicago “L”, store owners were forced to improvise. They created makeshift plows of heavy plywood. Use of wood, rather than steel, provided insulation against the 600-volt third rail on the train tracks.

The inability of local government to quickly resolve the crisis sparked a political upheaval — it is believed to have caused Mayor Michael Bilandic to lose the 1979 Democratic primary. According to Chicago Mag, city officials invoke his name as a warning: “Plow the streets, or you’ll end up just like Mayor Bilandic.”

Blizzard of 2001

According to NBC, the storm, which hit February 1, blew out windows and caused power outages affecting tens of thousands of people. Streets and expressways were jammed with stranded commuters. Littered with stranded vehicles, some of them almost completely buried in snow, Lake Shore Drive looked like a scene from an apocalyptic film.

Blizzard of 1999

On New Year’s weekend, a storm piled 21.6 inches of snow on the ground. On Saturday alone, 18.6 inches of snow fell – this is the largest single-day snowfall ever recorded in Chicago. According to CBS, sixty-mile-per-hour winds blustered, rocking trees, whipping flags, and toppling dumpsters. The governor called in the National Guard, activating at least 500 troops, to cope with the crisis.

Blizzard of 1967

This unexpected storm dumped twenty-three inches of snow on Chicago, from January 26 to January 27, with 53-mile-per-hour winds whipping up six-foot drifts. Thousands of people were stranded in stores and offices. According to The Chicago Tribune, 650 schoolchildren slept in libraries and gymnasiums because buses were stranded. About 50,000 abandoned cars and 800 buses filled the streets and expressways.

While the city was paralyzed by snow, looting was rampant. Tragically, 26 people died, including a 10-year-old girl accidentally caught in the crossfire between police and looters and a minister who was run over by a snowplow.

Fortunately, municipal governments are better prepared today than they were in the 1960s and 1970s, and your business will flourish throughout the winter with minimal interruptions. When a snowstorm hits, Brancato Snow and Ice will clear your parking lot, making it safe and convenient for customers. We also focus on pre-storm preparations and de-icing to stay ahead of the storm. Please contact us today.