Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Blizzard of '11: The Ground Hog Day Blizzard!

Ironically, last week I wrote about the 44th anniversary of the Great Chicago Blizzard of '67 and here we are again looking into the face of what is being predicted to be another legendary storm. This monster storm is bearing down on us like a freight train and the snow we received yesterday and early this morning, laying down a soft 3-4", will be nothing in comparison to what we're supposedly going to receive beginning sometime later today. The worst of the storm will be the poweful gale force winds that create monstrous drifts and plummet the mercury to artic temperatures.

Schools and businesses started amending their schedules yesterday and all extracurricular activities have been cancelled. Many schools are closed today or releasing students early, as are offices that don't provide essential emergency services.

I'm hearing radio and tv chatter about how it's possible this upcoming storm is going to trump the Monster of '67. This gets a little tiresome but I suppose it's necessary. Last night people were storming into grocery stores and buying enough food to get them through the Battle of Leningrad. Others were making Home Depot and similar stores happy as snow blowers, shovels and tons of salt were flying out the door at record speed. I was intrigued by the people who decided to buy shovels. You gotta' wonder how they got to January 31st in Chicago without one... maybe they live in buildings with doormen and they just want to share in the fun.  It's a puzzle to me.

You live in northern Illinois and don't own a shovel? Dude?

My friend Laura was already aggravated yesterday and complained about the media hype. "It's like we're idiots," she said, "and don't know when to put our mittens on." Good point and I agree; the media does tend to overplay these things. But maybe not -- after all there were those folks buying shovels for the first time -- at the end of January. Talk about pressing your luck, you know what I mean? Maybe someone should tell them they're going to need good boots, too. Maybe they're from Florida and winter in Chicago... yeah, anything's possible, right?

The city itself, however, is seriously prepared. Last night I got a glimpse into Chicago's War Room. The 10:00 news took a camera crew into the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications. It was like a mini-Pentagon and it really showed how we're in such better shape than we were 44 years ago -- all because of the extraordinary advances in technology.

Under the vision of Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago launched the Office of Emergency Communications on September 25, 1995 to coordinate the City’s delivery of police, fire and Emergency Medical Service resources to 911 calls. After September 11, 2001, the Office of Emergency Communications began coordinating the City’s planning for issues related to Homeland Security. The department also took on the responsibilities performed by the Fire Department’s Bureau of Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Services and created what is now known as the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC).

OEMC is also tasked with responding to Mother Nature.

The Blizzard of '67 caught us off guard. I wrote last week that weather forecasting didn't have Doppler and the other benefits of satellite technology. There weren't cell phones either and it was hell to keep in touch with your family if you were stranded. I've learned also that city buses carried smaller fuel tanks making refueling more critical and problematic in a blizzard. Also, the city's subway and elevated trains had outside motors that froze up and stalled. Today that's all different and our city plows and emergency vehicles have GPS and other technologies that can keep them on the streets longer and more effectively. Also a string of city cameras monitoring roadways allow for the rapid deployment to areas needing the most attention. There are many other advantages we have today and one of them is certainly communications and an expansion of city services.

Here's what I found at the OEMC website today:

City of Chicago officials today discussed preparations for a winter snowstorm forecasted to dump 18-24 inches between Tuesday and Wednesday.

The National Weather Service has issued a Blizzard Warning for the Chicago area. The storm is expected to be accompanied by blowing snow and strong winds, which can lead to whiteout conditions and make travel very dangerous.

“As you know, we often stand before you to communicate what we are doing as a city to prepare for events like this. However, this time we may potentially be dealing with a storm of historic proportions. If we get the amount of snow that some are predicting, it will be the largest snow storm to hit Chicago since 1967,” said Ray Orozco, Chief of Staff, Office of the Mayor.

The heaviest snowfall is expected to arrive after 9 pm Tuesday and last until Wednesday morning. During this period the City could experience snowfall accumulations of 2-3 inches per hour. The snow should end by Wednesday afternoon.

In addition to snow, a Lakeshore Flood Watch is also in effect from Tuesday evening to Wednesday afternoon. 30-40 mile per hour winds with gusts up to 60 mph at the shore is expected to create 14-18 foot waves with occasional waves up to 25 feet.
In preparation for the snowstorm:
  • The Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications is activating the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Tuesday afternoon at noon. The EOC will remain open for as long as necessary, and will be staffed by all key city departments.
  • The Department of Streets and Sanitation will utilize its full fleet, 274 trucks, plus 120 garbage trucks with quick hitch plows. Trucks will concentrate on main routes and Lake Shore Drive so that emergency vehicles can pass.
  • The City has also increased the number of garbage trucks to try and get ahead of this week’s garbage collection.
  • City officials have been coordinating with groups such as the Salvation Army, Red Cross, the Building Owners and Managers Association, Chicago FIRST, Metra and IDOT to share information and coordinate storm response.
  • The Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) will operate three 24 hour centers, including North Area, Garfield and King, beginning on Wednesday at 7 a.m. through Thursday at 5 p.m. All other centers will be open during regular hours of operation. With more than 4,000 beds in 60 shelters across the city, and the capacity to add more beds as needed, there is no reason for anyone to sleep outdoors. Call 311 for assistance or transportation.
  • DFSS is contacting seniors to encourage them to stay indoors and make arrangements for necessary food, medicine and supplies. All six regional senior centers, 12 satellite senior centers and various nutritional sites will be closed on Wednesday, February 2. Seniors who typically receive meals through at these locations will receive boxed meals tomorrow to last through Thursday.
  • The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) will coordinate snow removal efforts with the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines to minimize the impact of weather conditions on airport operations.
  • The Chicago Transit Authority’s snow command team will make sure buses and rail cars can get in and out of garages and yards. Crews will salt bus terminals, turnarounds and garages. Parking lot vendors for CTA Park & Ride lots will be notified to salt and keep parking lots clear.
  • If CTA buses and trains are significantly impacted by the adverse weather conditions, CTA Bus Tracker and CTA Train Tracker information also may be affected.
  • Chicago Public Schools has sent letters home today with students advising parents on what to expect. Parents, guardians and CPS staff should monitor news reports, the CPS website www.cps.edu or the CPS Safety and Security hotline at (773) 553-3030 for updates on possible school closures. A decision on whether to order a partial or complete closure of schools, and/or a suspension of bus service will be made by the Chief Executive Officer based on the expected conditions Wednesday morning.
City officials also discussed steps residents can take to prepare for the storm:
  • Call 311 right away if you are without heat or in need of shelter
  • Monitor reputable news sources such as the National Weather Service or local television and radio stations for the latest news and information
  • Take care of tasks before the storm hits, such as shopping for groceries, filling up the gas tank or filling prescriptions
  • Sign up to receive extreme weather alerts, or review comprehensive information on winter weather preparedness by visiting www.AlertChicago.com
  • Reach out to friends, relatives and neighbors to make sure they are safe and comfortable. If you are concerned about someone and not able to make contact yourself, call 311 and request a well-being check.
  • Keep cars off of arterial streets on the snow route system. This is a matter of public safety and allows us to clear streets more quickly. The 2 inch winter parking ban on marked routes will be in effect once we have 2 inches on the ground.
  • When clearing snow from cars, pile it on the parkway. Never shovel snow into the street.
  • Clear snow from around garbage carts to assist with garbage removal
  • Don’t cover fire hydrants with shoveled snow
  • Allow extra time if traveling on public transportation
  • Air travelers with scheduled flights from, to or connecting through Chicago should check their airline’s website or call them to confirm the status of their flight. Passengers should check this information before heading to the airport, and allow plenty of time to get to the airport, check in and arrive at their gate.
Finally, the Chicago Department of Public Health offered practical tips for Chicago residents:
  • Avoid making unnecessary trips outside. If the task can wait until the weather gets warmer, let it wait.
  • If you go out into the cold, limit the time you stay outside. Schedule indoor rest periods in between outdoor activities. Do not let children play outside for long periods of time.
  • Wear several layers of loose, warm clothing.
  • Pay special attention to keeping your head, ears, hands and feet warm. Wear a hat, scarf, gloves, thick socks and winter boots.
  • Stay dry, because moisture from perspiration---or from melting snow---can damage the insulating effectiveness of clothes.
  • Pay extra attention to your body’s daily needs. Drink warm beverages and soup to help your body stay warm. Avoid alcoholic beverages, which can impair your judgment. Alcohol also dilates blood vessels, which makes the body lose heat faster.
  • Also, check regularly on the well-being of friends, relatives and neighbors who live alone and who are elderly or have a disability. This is a time when it’s especially important for all of us to look out for each other.
  • Finally, please remember to prepare for the coming weather by ensuring that you have adequate and appropriate supplies at your home and at work. That way, if you should need to  remain indoors during the snowfall, you will be prepared.
Well, there you have it.

The city of Big Shoulders, the Windy City, that "toddlin' town..." -- and most of all the City that Works.

My thanks to all of the remarkable Chicagoans who are going to do everything in their power to get us through the upcoming blizzard.

God bless ya' -- you're The Best.


  1. Hi,
    Wow thank you for such an amazing piece of work. It makes a lovely change to read something that is inspirational. I was looking through to find people with similar interests and I came upon your work. I have an interest in Human Rights and I am very proactive in this area especially in the Tibetan cause. I would very much like to follow your blog and would apreciate if you could check out mine even though it is a little different from your own,

    Thanks Tenzin Dasal

  2. Thank you, Julie; I appreciate it. I checked out your bio/blog etc and you certainly are a fascinating person! Yes we definitely share many of the same interests and I'll be happy to follow your blog. Peace; ~m.

  3. I have two reasons why someone would buy a shovel in Jan. First there are those that live in buildings where they don't have to shovel.
    they may have parked on the street and will have to dig their way out of that spot.
    Then there are familys that have only one shovel who need all hands on deck for this big show shoveling job. We have three right now. I'm always hopeful that one of the kids will come by when I am shoveling to help.

  4. OK, Sue, I stand corrected! (LOL!) Actually, since I've lived in condos & apts I know that's true but I was going for the funny and maybe not the God's truth (oops!). So, how did the shoveling go for you? Did the kids show up? We have some elderly neighbors and dug them out; they have shovels and snow blowers but aren't in shape to use them. We even managed to get her to renal dialysis in the storm. Al's yrs at ORD make him a real specialist in snow management. Glad it's all over though; I hope this is it for the season if not the next 30 yrs!