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Blizzard Of 2011: Remembering The Groundhog Snowstorm

By John Dodge

CHICAGO (CBS) -- On the afternoon of Feb. 1, 2011, snow began began falling with a ferocity rarely seen in Chicago.

The snow fell so hard and so fast during rush hour, that it left motorists stranded on Lake Shore Drive. There were three accidents between 7:15 and 7:45 p.m., one of them involving a CTA bus. Shortly afterward, there were two more accidents just south of North Avenue.

The accidents caused cars and buses to back up, and as the snow piled up, vehicles became immobilized and off-ramps became impassable.

About 900 cars were abandoned on Lake Shore Drive that night, after drivers spent hours sitting in their cars or walking around waiting to be rescued. The drive was closed for 33 hours.

Lake Shore Drive Bus
An abandoned bus on Lake Shore Drive (Credit: Steve Miller/WBBM 780)
Lake Shore Drive Bus
An abandoned bus on Lake Shore Drive (Credit: Steve Miller/WBBM 780)

Major Blizzard Roars Through Chicago Area

Major Blizzard Roars Through Chicago Area
(Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Lake Shore Drive
Abandoned cars on Lake Shore Drive just north of Fullerton Parkway. (Credit: Steve Miller/WBBM 780)

Since the blizzard fiasco on Lake Shore Drive, new "turnarounds" have been created to provide an escape route during inclement weather.

The storm set a record for snowfall over a 24-hour period (20 inches) and ended up being the third-heaviest snowstorm on record (21.2 inches, which includes lighter snowfall the previous evening and the morning of Feb. 1.)

Feb. 1 2011 Snowfall Totals by John Dodge

The Chicago Public Schools shut down, and businesses closed their doors early. Before long, the entire flight schedules at O'Hare and Midway international airports were canceled.

The Kennedy and Edens expressways ground to a halt, and what had been a 10-minute ride to the junction at 2 p.m. took 45 minutes two hours later.

Winds also blasted the city that day, with peak gusts of 70 miles per hour. Here is a list of peak wind gusts observed, according to the National Weather Service:

Lakefront    70 mph
Burns Harbor    67
Waukegan Harbor    63
Pontiac    61
O'Hare    61
Aurora     59
Romeoville     59
Midway Airport     58
West Chicago     54
Waukegan     53
Calumet     53
Joliet     52
DeKalb     52
Rochells     49
Kankakee     49
Wheeling     49
Rockford     48
Lansing     47
Michigan City     46
Valparaiso     43

In all, the blizzard dumped 21.2 inches of snow on Chicago.

That made it the third heaviest blizzard in Chicago history, outdone only by the infamous blizzard on Jan. 26-27, 1967, when 23 inches fell, and the blizzard of Jan. 1-3, 1999, which brought 21.6 inches. Even the blizzard of Jan. 13-14, 1979, which led to the ouster of Mayor Michael Bilandic, was significantly smaller, dumping only 18.8 inches – although there were already 7 to 10 inches on the ground from an earlier snowstorm that winter.

GALLERY: Pictures of the 2011 Blizzard

The City of Chicago deployed jet-engine-like snow heaters to blast some of the snow into water. The city, like many other towns, also will be dumping it into trucks and dropping it in abandoned parking lots or open fields.

And, not to be forgotten, just one year ago, Chicago got another Groundhog Day snow blast, officially 19.3 inches. That ranks No. 5 all time for Chicago.

Last year's snow fell over the weekend, avoiding commuter disasters like the one in 2011.

This year, another strong snowstorm is in the forecast, but it is expected to miss Chicago.

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