CHICAGO (CBS) — Traditionally, of course, Groundhog Day involves a groundhog, Woodstock Willie for the Chicago area, prophesying six more weeks of winter if he sees his shadow.
There’s also, of course, Bill Murray’s 1993 movie that involves reliving the same day that turns out to be Groundhog Day over and over again.
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But in the Chicago area for the past 11 years, whether or not there will be six more weeks of winter weather has often been the last thing on our minds when we’ve been in the midst of major snowstorms. And relive the same day over and over again? Certainly, we haven’t had a major blizzard every Chicago Groundhog Day in recent years, far from it, but the overall concept might strike a little too close to home.
A major snowstorm is again in the forecast for Groundhog Day this year, next Wednesday. It will mark the 11th anniversary of one of the most severe snowstorms in Chicago history, and the seventh anniversary of a time when it happened again.
The 2011 blizzard began on Monday, January 31, 2011, 11 years ago. But it peaked on February 2, also a Wednesday of that year, and thus became known as the Groundhog Day blizzard. It unloaded 21.2 inches total at O’Hare International Airport.
That figure is second only to the blizzard of January 26-27, 1967, which returned 23.0 inches, and the blizzard of January 1-3, 1999, which returned 21.6 inches. Even the blizzard of January 13-14, 1979, which is credited with ousting Mayor Michael Bilandic from office due to complaints about the city’s response, fell short of the 2011 blizzard. , with 20.3 inches, although it has already exceeded 7 to 10 inches. on the ground from a previous storm.
READ CBS CHICAGO’S COVERAGE OF THE 2011 BLIZZARD: Massive Blizzard Hits Chicagoland | Lake Shore Drive A Disaster; drivers stuck for hours
Driving just about anywhere in the Chicago area was nearly impossible during the storm, and many who tried found themselves in serious trouble.
Initially, what is now known as DuSable Lake Shore Drive was moving smoothly as the afternoon rush hour began on Tuesday, February 1, but conditions began to deteriorate following several accidents. There were three accidents between 7:15 and 7:45 pm, one of them involving a Chicago Transit Authority bus. Shortly thereafter, there were two more accidents south of North Avenue.
The accidents caused cars and buses to back up, and as snow piled up, vehicles were immobilized and exit ramps became impassable. The Drive was closed at 7:58 p.m., and fire and police personnel worked to get as many cars off the road as possible and remove people who couldn’t get out on their own.
Some people ended up stranded for up to 12 hours before being rescued. Some frustrated drivers simply got out of their vehicles and abandoned them in the middle of the Drive.
A CTA bus driver told CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole that he had been stranded on Lake Shore Drive since 5:40 p.m. Tuesday. February 1st. That was at 5:15 am on Wednesday, February 2.
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The city ended up being heavily criticized for its response to the emergency at Drive. On one hand, they wanted to get people off the road, but on the other hand, they wanted them to stay in their cars so the snowplows could attack the snowpack.
As for those who were rescued, many were taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital for exposure to cold. 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 portion of Wrigley Field. A panel on the roof of 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, that Groundhog Day blizzard was a rare weather event: heavy snowfall, powerful winds, even lightning and blizzards.
Four years later, everything happened again, although with somewhat less dramatic consequences on the roads. Beginning on Super Bowl Sunday on February 1 and continuing through Groundhog Day, another snowstorm dumped 19.3 inches. That number is the fifth highest in Chicago history.
There weren’t a lot of cars left on Lake Shore Drive that year. But heavy snow caused Chicago Public Schools and most other area school districts to cancel classes on Groundhog Day because the roads were treacherous. Museums and other institutions also closed early.
As of Tuesday, February 3, many streets were still covered in packed snow, causing cars to slip and slide as they try to navigate deep ruts left by two days of traffic on unswept roads. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city’s plow crews would not rest until all side streets were passable and safe.
As for this year, the forecast does not call for a blizzard, which requires snow to come and/or fall with wind speeds of at least 35 mph. But another winter storm is brewing, once again, on Groundhog Day.
Models currently predict that the heaviest snow will fall just south of Chicago. First Alert Weather models show that most of the area is expected to have significant snow, between 5 and 11 inches.
TO WINTER STORM WARNING It goes into effect at 8 p.m. and continues through Wednesday at 6 p.m. The advisory is in effect in Cook, DuPage, Kendall, Grundy, Will, LaSalle, Kankakee counties and all of northwestern Indiana.
The heaviest snowfall is expected for Kankakee County and Northwest Indiana with nearly 14 inches of snow.
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The snow will continue through the first half of Wednesday, before tapering off in the afternoon. A second system, which appears to be tracking south, arrives Wednesday night and lasts through Thursday afternoon.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism