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49 Years Ago Today: Infamous Blizzard Of '67 Paralyzed Chicago

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Starting nearly 50 years ago today, Chicago endured the worst blizzard in its history, watching as 23 inches of snow blanketed the city and suburbs, bringing the area to a virtual standstill.

The snow started falling around 5 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26, 1967, and when it stopped around 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 27, the city had been crippled. The airports and virtually all transportation were shut down. Many businesses and schools sent workers and students home early, but many workers couldn't get home thanks to the nightmarish commute, and ended up staying at work, or sleeping in hotels. Some hospitals had to bring in helicopters to deliver medical supplies.

Nearly 50,000 cars were abandoned on city streets and expressways .About 800 CTA buses also were stranded in the snow.

1967 Blizzard
A view of Greenview Avenue in Rogers Park after the 1967 blizzard. (Credit: Bob Kotalik/Chicago Sun-Times)

It wasn't just the heavy snowfall that created such a mess. Wind gusts of up to 53 mph caused significant blowing snow, and drifts as high as 6 feet formed throughout the area. At one point during the storm, up to 2 inches per hour were falling.

Commuter trains and buses didn't start running again until Saturday, Jan. 28, as the city began to dig out from the massive snowfall, but all those abandoned cars and buses hampered snow plows, and it took days to get the roads cleared.

O'Hare International Airport didn't reopen until Monday, Jan. 30, and most schools didn't reopen until Tuesday, Jan. 31, when transportation finally started getting back to normal.

1967 Blizzard
A stalled police car at the Michigan Avenue entrance of outer Lake Shore Drive during the Blizzard of 67' (Credit: Pete Peters/Chicago Sun-Times)

At least 60 deaths were blamed on the snow, including a minister run over by a snow plow, and a girl caught in a shootout between police and looters.

What made the 1967 blizzard especially surprising was, only two days earlier, Chicago experienced a record high of 65 degrees. Thunderstorms on the evening of Jan. 24 included reports of funnel clouds spotted on the South Side.

Although forecasts predicted snow on Jan. 26, 1967, only about 4 inches were expected. But when it started snowing around 5 a.m., it didn't stop until around 10 a.m. the next day.

The Chicago Blizzard of 1967 still stands as the city's largest single snowstorm, although a few other records set back then have since been broken.

• At the time, the 16.4 inches that fell on Jan. 26 alone was the largest single-day snowfall in Chicago. That record was broken 32 years later, when 18.6 inches fell on Jan. 2, 1999.
• It also produced the largest snowfall in a 24-hour period in Chicago, with 19.8 inches. That record was broken in 2011, during the infamous Groundhog Day Blizzard, which also resulted in hundreds of cars stranded on Lake Shore Drive, leaving the highway shut down for more than a day.
• Additional snows in the days after the 1967 blizzard left Chicago with the largest snow depth on the ground, at 27 inches by Feb. 6. That has been surpassed by the equally infamous blizzard of 1979, when there were 29 inches on the ground after a two-day blizzard dumped 21 inches of snow on the city. Mayor Michael Bilandic took the blame for the city's inadequate response to the 1979 blizzard, and he lost his bid for re-election six weeks later.
• Finally, the winter of 1966-67 set a record for greatest seasonal snowfall (measured by the National Weather Service from July 1 through June 30), with 68.4 inches, although that total has since been surpassed four times, and the record now stands at 89.7 inches in 1978-79.

1967 Blizzard
This Jan. 30, 1967 photo shows abandoned autos littering South Lake Shore Drive near the 18th Street footbridge, hampering cleanup. This view looks north onto the southbound lanes of South Lake Shore Drive with the City in the background. (Credit: Ralph Arvidson/Chicago Sun-Times)
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