A couple years ago, I put together a brief slideshow article on the Great Blizzard of 1978. In terms of scope, barometric pressure, and tonnage, it is probably the worst snowstorm to ever bury the Great Lakes region. But every time I trotted out that article, an army of readers wave away the ’78 storm like a house fly. Some of their comments:
No 1967 was the worst—Drifts higher than the roof—Snowed in for a week—1967 was one hell of a storm—My twins were one month old—67 MUCH worse than 78—67 gets my vote—Both were bad. 67 was worse—I have no great recollection of the great blizzard of 1978 but i sure do of 1967—We were stranded out in the country and had to eat our dog to survive.
Pretty sure the last one was a joke. I hope.
I read literally a thousand of comments like that and I’ve been doing this long enough to know when a thousand people say the same thing, then it’s probably true. And it was. If you were caught in the 1967 Chicago Blizzard, then it was worse. MUCH worse.
It localized on the Chicagoland area (from Northeastern Illinois to Northwest Indiana) and lasted only 29 hours, but in those 29 hours, it set a record that has stood for 53 years: almost two feet of snow.
Two feet of snowfall doesn’t sound like much, but measuring snowfall isn’t as straightforward as simply glancing at a gauge. One inch of snowfall is typically reported as a water equivalent, which means it can vary anywhere from 5 to 12 inches of actual snow (check out the link below). That also doesn’t account for drifting (some of which stretched over two stories high) and the blizzard’s sustained winds of 52 mph.
If you’re enjoying this story, check out our collected tales from across Indiana and the Midwest…
As the blizzard gained momentum in the days leading up to its strike on Chicagoland, it almost seemed as if the current over the United States conspired together. Three days before the storm, it was a pleasant 65 degrees in and around Chicago. Barely even jacket weather. Then the temperature fell.
The storm collected low pressure systems from southern Canada, the Rockies, the Texas Panhandle, and Oklahoma, increasing in size somewhat, but mostly increasing in intensity, falling to about 990 millibars. Air heavy with humidity poured into the system from the Gulf of Mexico and then the entire lumbering, slushy mass came toward Chicago. Had luck been with Chicagoland, it might have passed over the city completely and deposited its destruction over Lake Michigan. However, a separate high pressure system had arrived over the Great Lakes, throwing up an effective atmospheric wall. There was no where else for the storm to go but down.
The snow fell and the wind blew. It started with a few inches before the 27th. It hit Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana hard, but didn’t cripple the businesses, highways, or schools. Just as we (I admit it) do today, those around Lake Michigan thumbed their noses at the storm and dismissed it. “You think that was bad?! You should have seen…”
On the 27th, all Hell broke loose. From 5 AM on Thursday, January 26th to 10 AM Friday, January 27th, it snowed. Saying “it snowed” was like saying describing D-Day as “guys going to a beach.” It didn’t snow. It dumped, it buried, it scourged, it entombed Chicagoland. The almost-instantly impassable roads left people trapped at work, at home, at school, even at stores. Vehicles jumbled and littered highways like a broken game of Tetris, all covered in piles of snow and as useless as paperweights.
Towns and cities—Chicago included—called in every municipal employee available and then asked for volunteers from the general public. The surrounding states that witnessed the Midwest’s flagship region sent in reinforcements. These state and local governments could afford the generosity; the storm had only affected the miles between Rockford, Illinois, and LaPorte, Indiana. It seemed a disaster reserved specifically for Chicagoland.
There as no shortage of supplies or manpower, but the storm had destroyed the area’s transportation infrastructure. Plowing was useless until the snow and wind abetted, since it simply drifted back onto roads. For several days in 1967, you were better off riding a horse than a Ford.
Reactions to the vary, depending on the speaker. Those what were children in 1967remember it with fondness. That’s no surprise, considering most of them had been given an extra week on their winter vacation. Later on, the state of Indiana would waive the missing days, requiring no mandatory extension of the school year.
Our 1967 adults’ memories range more dramatically. Children are blissfully unaware of the dangers surrounding such shut down, but adults carry the burden of knowledge: by the time the snow cleared, 60 people in and around Chicagoland would be dead from the effects of the ’67 storm. Causes ranged from cardiac arrest while shoveling to simple hypothermia from heat loss. In one awful case, a little girl walked between police and a crowd of looters, and would fatally shot in the crossfire.</h3>
Want to Know More?
Would-be meteorologists, or anyone dying to point out the flaws of this article, might want to read the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s guide “Severe Weather 101” on the process required to accurately measure snowfall.
As a virtual memorial to the 60 lives lost during the storm and the collective experience of the Chicagoland region, the Chicago Tribune published a poignant collection of images from the terrifying storm: “The Blizzard of ’67.“
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