We like to name our snowstorms here in Chicagoland. We stack them up like snow shovels at the back door, waiting for the next big one to come drifting down and then we recall their names in our collective memories.
The Big Snow. New Year’s Eve Storm. 2011 Groundhog Day Blizzard. The Valentine’s Day Storm. The Blizzard of ’79. This weekend’s snowstorm has been christened The Super Bowl Blizzard.
From late Saturday night to early Monday morning, snow swirled and twirled and sleeted – and it edged out a previous March snow record, my father’s blizzard, knocking it down by an inch in its ranking, making The Super Bowl Blizzard the 5th highest accumulation of snow in Chicago’s history, measuring in at officially 19.3 inches.
My father and his sister, Christina, aged 12 and 10 at the time, had their tonsils removed on March 25, 1930 at the Presbyterian Hospital. It was just two blocks from their house. They walked to the hospital and would have walked back home the next day if nature had not made a call with what was, at the time, the greatest recorded snowfall in the history of the City of Chicago; a record that held until 1967. *
The Presbyterian Hospital was one of the first of its kind in Chicago. It was affiliated with Rush University, and today is part of the Rush Medical Center, one of the finest in the world. Renamed Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Hospital, it also claimed the tonsils of my sister and me in 1962. I call it the “two for one sale”; siblings who have tonsillectomies at the same time. My father and aunt. Tom and his sister, Maura. Dottie and Penny. You?
I remember both snowstorms well, even though I was not yet born in 1930. I was not even a “twinkle in my father’s eye” in 1930. My memories are family folklore, for that storm and it’s events were retold, each and every winter, after big snowfalls, and every March of my childhood.
On March 25 and 26, 1930, snow fell as Daddy and Aunt Christina were having their tonsils snipped. By the time they were sufficiently recovered, Chicago was blanketed in deep snow. No streetcars were moving. No cabs. Nothing was moving. It was too cold and dangerous for Pete and Christina to walk home and they were too big to be safely carried. Biting winds swept in off the Lake. Not many drove cars back then; well, no one but Bill, a cousin.
Bill and his machine were dispatched. The children were bundled beyond recognition. They were settled into a 192o’s automobile which moved, inch by inch, home. My grandfather sat in the passenger seat. Pete and Christina were nestled in the back seat under an array of blankets. It took them almost an hour to drive two blocks. Bill and my grandfather got them home safe and sound.
My family never forgot Bill’s kindness in bringing the children home that day. I was born in that very same hospital; my mother and father walking the two blocks to my birth. Bill would become my godfather.
The 1930 March blizzard would come out of the deep well of family lore each winter; a reminder of a big snowstorm that my father and aunt endured after their tonsillectomies and were driven home in a car. While I enjoyed hearing about the storm, as I did about all family stories, I was secretly, childishly, elated for The Big Snow of ’67. That historical blizzard gave me and my generation of Chicago area kids a big snow of our own.
The Big Snow of 1967 holds a record which has never been broken. 23 inches of snow fell in that snowstorm. It brought the City of Chicago and the suburbs to a halt and is etched in the memories of my generation as much as the many other memories of that era.
That snowstorm of 1967 was the “perfect storm”, of Biblical proportions it seemed. It is still talked about around kitchen tables and by meteorologists, who pull it out of the archives of storms whenever another big snow falls. So it now, as we shovel out of the Super Bowl Blizzard of 2015, which just nudged my father’s 1930’s storm to 6th place . .
. . . and we still recall The Big Snow of 1967, a storm like no other.
It’s all in a name – or one tenth of an inch.
* There have been years with more snowfall in a season. These records are sustained snowfalls without stopping.
1. 23.0 inches January 26-27, 1967 The Big Snow
2. 21.6 inches January 1-3, 1999 The New Year’s Storm
3. 21.2 inches January 31-February 2, 2011 Groundhog Day Blizzard
4. 20.3 inches January 12-14, 1979 Blizzard of 79
5. 19.3 inches January 31-February 2, 2015 The Super Bowl Blizzard
6. 19.2 inches March 25-26, 1930
7. 16.2 inches March 7-8, 1931
8. 14.9 inches January 30, 1939
9. 14.9 inches January 6-7, 1918
10. 14.8 inches December 17-19, 1929