Watch CBS News

Remembering The Snowmageddon Blizzard Of 2011, 10 Years Later

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Chicago area was hit with a major winter storm that dumped more than a foot of snow on parts of the area this weekend – it was the biggest snowstorm to hit the area in years.

But of course, it's all relative.

On Jan. 31, 2011 – a decade ago Sunday – the snow began in a blizzard that did not let up for 40 hours. Some called it Snowmageddon. Others called it the Groundhog Day Blizzard – as it came to its apex on Wednesday, Feb. 2.

In a city known for some big winter storms, this was one for the ages. It dumped 21.2 inches all told at O'Hare International Airport.

That figure is outranked only by the blizzard of Jan. 26-27, 1967, which dumped 23.0 inches, and the blizzard of Jan. 1-3, 1999, which dumped 21.6. Even the blizzard of Jan. 13-14, 1979 – which is credited for ousting Mayor Michael Bilandic from office due to complaints about the city's response – fell short of the 2011 blizzard, with 20.3 inches, albeit on top of 7 to 10 inches already on the ground from an earlier storm.

READ CBS CHICAGO COVERAGE OF THE BLIZZARD OF 2011: Massive Blizzard Wallops Chicagoland | Lake Shore Drive A Disaster; Drivers Stuck For Hours

Driving virtually anywhere in the Chicago area was nearly impossible during the storm, and many of those who tried ran into serious trouble.

Initially, Lake Shore Drive was moving smoothly as the evening rush began on Tuesday, Feb. 1, but conditions began to deteriorate following several accidents. There were three accidents between 7:15 and 7:45 p.m., one of them involving a Chicago Transit Authority 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. Lake Shore Drive was closed at 7:58 p.m., and fire and police personnel worked to move as many cars as possible off the highway and remove people who could not get out on their own.

Some people ended up being stranded for up to 12 hours before they were rescued. Some frustrated drivers simply got out of their vehicles and abandoned them in the middle of the Drive.

Jim Glonke told us at the time that he was stranded near North Avenue for 11 hours. He told CBS 2 he left his office in Chinatown in the late afternoon Tuesday, Feb. 1, and it was backed up. He arrived at North Avenue around 7 p.m. that evening, and traffic stopped completely for an hour or two. Glonke was told a jackknifed bus was to blame.

Many cars ran out of gas, and were abandoned, as Glonke sat and exchanged text messages with his girlfriend, sister, and mother.

"The next thing you know, it's 4:15 in the morning, and I was one of the last cars to come off who actually had a few fumes left in his tank to get to the gas station," Glonke said at the time.

Another driver remained stranded on Lake Shore Drive at 5 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 2, and said he had been all but abandoned.

"We're at North Avenue right now. It's a standstill. They told us about an hour and a half ago that we'd be off the exit. There's a car that ran out of gas, and that was about 1 o'clock and we've been sitting here ever since," he said that morning. "Nobody's come by. Nobody's told us anything."

A CTA bus driver told CBS 2's Vince Gerasole he had been stranded on Lake Shore Drive since 5:40 p.m. Tuesday. Feb. 1. That was at 5:15 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 2.

The city ended up being sharply criticized for its response to the emergency on the Drive. On the one hand, they wanted to get people off the roadway, but on the other hand, they wanted them to remain in their cars so plows could attack the snow buildup.

As for those who were rescued, many were taken to St. Joseph Hospital for cold exposure. Others were taken to warming centers or placed on warming buses.

Meanwhile, the city's Department of Buildings said at the time that the roofs blew off at least two buildings – including a part of Wrigley Field. A panel on the roof at the ballpark above the press box was damaged by extreme winds during the blizzard.

But even if you were in the comfort of your own home, was a rare meteorological event - heavy snow, powerful winds, even lightning and thundersnow.

O'Hare and Midway international airports were shut down. Tens of thousands of ComEd customers lost power. The Chicago Public Schools canceled classes for snow – which had not happened since 1999.

In the time since then, the biggest snowstorm Chicago has seen came on Feb. 1-2, 2015, with 19.3 inches.

CBS 2's Jim Williams contributed to this report.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.