Originally appeared in the Fall 2020 Gazette
by Helen Weaver
“A city accustomed to snowstorms succumbed to one today,” was the lead-in to a January 27, 1967 New York Times story on the worst snowstorm in Chicago history. For those living in the metropolitan area, including many Winnetkans, the storm that brought 23 inches to the city and several inches more to the suburbs was an unforgettable event.
When the snow began on Thursday, January 26, most residents were unconcerned, especially since two days earlier the temperature had reached 65 degrees and forecasters were predicting less than six inches of now. But by Thursday afternoon, conditions were so bad that O’Hare International Airport was closed, expressways were snowbound, and cars, buses, and taxis were abandoned on the city’s streets. A Chicago Tribune article published the day after the storm reported that police had estimated 1,000 vehicles, including buses full of school children, were stranded on the Calumet Expressway.
The snow did not stop until late morning on Friday, January 27. While the total accumulation was record-breaking at 23 inches (four inches higher than the 19 inches recorded in March 1930), the greatest damage came from the high winds (up to 25 miles per hour) undoing the work of city plows and creating impassable snow-drifts.
On February 2, 1967, Winnetka Talk writer Margo Joyner reported that members of the Public Works Department had tallied 1,000 man-hours clearing streets and parking lots and had hauled about 500 loads of snow to parks and landfills. Joyner also reported that during the worst of the storm on Thursday night, the Winnetka police were unable to access their squad cars. Fortunately, several residents including Richard Goddard, Donald Ickes, and Judd Weinberg of Winnetka loaned snowmobiles to the police and fire departments for the night. About a dozen people whose cars had stalled on Village streets spent the night in the police station’s lounge.
Peter Butler, a sophomore at New Trier High School in 1967, remembers how the storm took Winnetkans by surprise: “As the snow progressed into the evening, still no one was predicting much more snow. The forecasters didn’t have the radars they have today. And on top of that, the wind shifted enough to create a huge lake effect impact. When we awoke the next morning, we realized how big the storm was. I recall Edens Highway was totally shut down.”
While the conditions were challenging, most Winnetkans remember the storm as a fun time. Mary Westerman (also a New Trier sophomore) recalls, “I remember enjoying the beauty of the white snow, and lots of it, for days. We thought having schools close for the snow was exceptionally fun. We lived on a ‘dead-end’ street so it didn’t get plowed for who knows how long. We all pitched in to shovel us out of our homes and driveways. The first few days we walked everywhere.”
Other Winnetkans have vivid memories as well. Sally Schneiders was only seven, yet remembers the storm with fondness: “My dad got a farmer to come in with a sleigh and took all the neighborhood kids from Ridge Avenue down Hill Road, and it was awesome. We climbed up our roof and jumped down into the snow.”
Her brother Charlie Solberg adds, “I agree, jumping off into snow drifts was a lot of fun. Once the snow had been packed down, we made a tremendous snow fort like an igloo.” Tor Solberg’s memories are equally fond. “I remember the same things as you do, believe it or not, being only 5 years old,” he says. “We made tunnels throughout the backyard leading to the igloo by the garage. I also remember looking out into the backyard daydreaming about all you can do with so much snow.”
Patti Van Cleave, as a nine-year-old, has more serious memories of the storm: “I was at home with my brother, sister, and a babysitter. My mother had gone downtown and my father was traveling on business. As the snow came down we knew it would be difficult for Mom to get home. She ended up taking a cab up from the city. My brother was so excited to see her that he dashed down the stairs, fell and cut his forehead open. Mom called an ambulance, but it couldn’t get to us. We tried to get our car out, but got stuck. We finally called a neighbor, who was able to collect my mother and brother for the trip to Evanston Hospital for stitches.”
Former Winnetkan Muffy Weaver echoes the sentiments of a Winnetka Talk editorial the week after the storm headlined, “Storm Brings Out the Best.”
“Schools closed and the snow was deep,” she recalls. “But what I remember most as I went roaming about in deep snow was how friendly people were. People so often pull together when there is a challenging situation.” ■