The Big Snow-January 26, 1967

If you are something over 60, and lived in Chicago or the suburbs,  you surely remember where YOU were on that Thursday, January 26, Please leave your story in comments below.

It was  5:02 a.m. on January 26, 1967 when the first flakes of snow began to fall harmlessly to the ground. The weather bureau predicted 4”, later revising it to 9” and again to 15 inches. What did they know?

At 10:10 AM, 29 hours and 8 minutes later on Friday January 27th the snow finally stopped with a record 23” crippling Chicago, suburbs, and several states. Wherever we were, snow was up to our knees or worse.

On that Thursday I was at work on Ravenswood Avenue near Irving Park. Sitting at my drafting board, I couldn’t wait until 5 PM when I could dash over to North Import Motors on Ashland Avenue and pick up my brand-new 1967 Volkswagen microbus. How could snow dampen one’s spirit? A horrific blizzard was the last thing on my mind.

how bad could it get? After all, we had just come off five consecutive days of 50 degrees or warmer, including a record breaking 65 degrees two days prior on January 24.  There were also Spring-like thunderstorms and even a few funnel clouds in the southwest suburbs. And then on January 25 the mercury had dropped to 31°

As stubborn as I was, I did take delivery of my new Volkswagen, but getting home was almost impossible. Hours later the best I could do was leave it in the Devon bank parking lot and walk the rest of the way home. There were already impassable drifts in the middle of side street intersections. Painfully, I would not drive my new VW until the next Tuesday.

That evening others had way much more to deal with.  Snow kept coming down one to two inches an hour.. Most everyone was caught off guard. Any travel from work and school was a disaster. People were stranded in their offices, or on CTA buses. Most rush hour traffic ground to a standstill. Some workers needed as much as 5 hours to get home on a trip that would normally take a half an hour. Anyone still trying to drive encountered whiteout conditions that night. Students were trapped in schools or on buses.

Police cars radioed in saying they were stuck. Squad cars that were dispatched to push other squads out of drifts ended up stuck themselves. IC trains were delayed numerous times when autos got stuck on railroad tracks.  300 were sheltered overnight in one firehouse alone.

Friday, January 27

As we woke up on Friday morning, we all realized what was happening. The storm continued to blow into town and the city was paralyzed. The snow just kept on coming down at up to 2 inches an hour until 10 AM. We were in a mess like we had never seen before. Classes for more than 1 million children in the Chicago area were called off. 515 public schools were closed. 356,000 Catholic children had to stay home.

 By Friday morning, most all streets were impassable and nothing was moving. Lakeshore Drive was closed as were the expressways and toll roads. It was reported that thousands of cars were stuck in the middle of the streets and had been abandoned with snow up to their hoods or worse.

3300 CTA buses were out of operation and between 700 and 1100 of those were unaccounted for, stuck somewhere on impassable streets and expressways. Dozens of passengers had spent the night aboard unheated buses. A New York Central train from New York City was stranded at the Englewood station. Another derailed a couple blocks south of the LaSalle Street station. 12 IC trains were halted overnight or 3 feet of snow-covered switches. Passengers stayed in trains overnight.

The five-mile Skokie Swift line from Howard to Dempster was shut down due to heavy snow. The Ravenswood elevated line was shut down because of a derailment in the Kimball Avenue yards. Taxi service was nonexistent.

The 4000 foot runway at Meigs, O’Hare, and Midway airports were closed. There were 4-to-15-foot drifts covering some runways and up to the terminal buildings.

Both Loop and airport hotels were jammed and filled to capacity with stranded travelers forced to turn away guests.

When the snow finally stopped mid-morning, the record 23.0” had severely crippled the city. 26 people had died were attributed to the storm. Many roofs collapsed from the heavy snow.

As many of us ventured out we saw that snow was up to our knees or worse. In some neighborhoods snowdrifts reached up to the second floor. And it wasn’t just the snow, northeast wind gusts of up to 53 miles an hour caused large snowdrifts.

Chicago was shut down. Most of the 117 miles of expressways in Cook County were impassable. The storm affected not only Chicago but covered a 10-state area. There were power blackouts and trees damaged, tornadoes swept Oklahoma and Mississippi.

Digging out from this mighty winter storm was not much of an option quite yet. Chicago’s snowplows and 350 garbage trucks equipped with plows were no match for the storm. The city drew on 30,000 tons of rock salt. 6 snowplows arrived from Wisconsin which had not received as much snow to help clear Edens and Kennedy expressways. Others came from Iowa and Michigan. The National guard was called out. Many still had not made it home, sheltered at work or still in fire stations. Many students had spent the night in schools.  Even Harry Volkman could not make it to the television station to give his weather report. One taxi driver used a shovel to help free a stuck tow truck. Passenger trains to New Orleans and Florida were sold out.

The fire department had to deal with extra alarm fires. The city asked residents to clear snow away from the hydrants to avoid delays in fighting fires that result when it takes extra time for firemen to find them. The heavy snow prevented ambulances from responding to calls and fire department ambulance response was next to impossible. People with medical emergencies could not get to hospitals. The Chicago fire Department helicopter flew for many hours in involving both medical and rescue operations. 26 people died in Chicago blizzard many dying from heart attacks due to shoveling the snow

Some emergency workers who did try to respond used sleds toboggans or even a snowplow to take people to the hospitals. 2 expectant mothers were taken to St. Margaret’s Hospital in Hammond Indiana on bulldozers. Some babies were just simply delivered at home. Many of us needed food and medicine. Milk, bread and yes cigarettes were cleaned off of supermarket shelves. Delivery trucks were unable to make deliveries to restock the shelves. Even film for cameras became scarce as everybody wanted to go out and take pictures of the snow.

Saturday, January 28 the city was still paralyzed despite sunny weather and a temperature of near 30 degrees. Many of us were out and about amazed at the amount of snow and stall vehicles.

I walked to Davon and Western where many CTA buses had stalled trying to negotiate the very small incline. I made good use of a Jewish delicatessen for hot chicken noodle soup.

Officials at Midway and O’Hare promised to resume operations later today. Much work still needed to be done before the Kennedy Expressway and other highways could be opened. It was estimated that 8000 cars were stranded on city roads including 2000 on expressways. The Outer Drive was described as a graveyard of cars.

Many people experienced a slow telephone dial tone because of overloaded conditions. Mayor Daley urged all Chicagoans to do what they could. He had hoped to have traffic moving by the Monday morning rush-hour. About two more inches of snow fell.

On Sunday January 29, the Chicago Tribune headline read “City gains in snow fight “ , but travel was still difficult and many if not most church services were canceled. Snowplows and salt spreading trucks began to work on 3000 miles of side streets. The outer drive remains closed from Balboa to 31st St.  O’Hare reopened 6 PM.

Monday, January 30 was a day of digging out and the temperature went way down as the song goes “Baby it’s cold outside” .

Most schools reopened on Tuesday, January 31. And it was my first day back to work. There was a light freezing rain early but was forecast to taper off. Citizens were urged to take public transportation to permit snow removal with a minimum of interference. It still took another three weeks for all the streets to be cleared. Just as westarted to recover from the big snow over the weekend, 4 inches fell on Wednesday, February 1. The following Sunday, February 5, another storm gifted us with 8.5 inches of snow.

The blizzard had a negative side when some 200 people looted stores on Roosevelt Road. A 10-year-old girl was shot and killed in exchange of gunfire between police and the gang who was looting a shoe store on Roosevelt Road. . A wave of looting broke out in other scattered parts of the city as well. Two mail trucks were looted, clothing stores and food stores were among the other targets of the gangs. 116 people including 10 women were arrested.

The worst ever Chicago storm did have a bright side after a fashion. It seemed a bit like a holiday and many kids were delighted. We saw people at their best helping one another and doing what they could. Those in need benefited from perfect strangers. Back then, never thought twice about giving a stranger a ride home. And one odd result of the storm is that some nine months later, a gaggle of babies were born. If you were born about October 1967, you just might have been one of them.

What you do with all of snow? The city had a few vehicles that melted the snow in the truck and resorted to dumping snow into the Chicago River. Well, you can also send it to Florida, and we did. Some railroads had their freight cars loaded with snow that could either melt in route or show’s kids in the South what snow looked like.

There were other heavy snowstorms in Chicago over the years in march 1926, December 1929, 19 inches in March 1930, more in  March 1931, January 1939, 20.3” in January 1979 and 21.2” on Groundhopg day in  February 2011.

1939

my big question is could happen again? Probably yes, but we seem to be better equipped to handle large storms.

For a related story, read about the Chicago’s custom of DIBS. click on the link.

Where were you before, during and after that blizzard?

Please share your stories of the 67 blizzard or one later in the comments below.

Or email me at bartonius84@ hotmail.com.

In the meantime, be well, stay safe. Thanks for reading.

4 thoughts on “The Big Snow-January 26, 1967”

  1. We lived in a neighborhood that was built early 1900s. The garages were built on the alley. The house behind us had a new garage built by the company where my dad worked. AND the new garage fell because of all the snow….. story has been told many times even tho my family moved from that house 25-30 years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I won’t ever forget the 1967 blizzard. We were in Brainard right across from the big park, the field house almost disappeared in the snowdrifts. I did the shoveling once it stopped snowing, we got about 26 inches in front of the house, my father’s car was almost invisible. I walked (struggled) the four blocks to the Rock Island station to help my mother get home – she got the last train out of downtown. I had a rather small dog and had to dig out a place for him to potty, he would’ve gotten stuck in the deep snow. I went the 4 blocks to 95th street to the Jewel with a shopping cart with my mother on the 28th, we got most of the usual groceries but getting them home was difficult, there was only a packed down path in the middle of the street and the cart didn’t roll well, we ended up mostly carrying it. Endured the blizzard in 1979 by then we’d moved to Beverly. and 2011 was also not much fun. It’s a good thing we don’t have those kind of storms every winter.

    Liked by 1 person

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