Blizzard in Chicago; Record snow from Rockies to Great Lakes
By Patrick Mondout
In January of 1979, Chicago experienced one of its worst blizzards on
record. The storm started on the night of Friday, January 12th and left 20
inches of snow over the weekend on top of a base of seven to ten inches.
It closed O'Hare - the world's busiest airport - for 46 hours and left the
mayor's re-election plans in shambles.
The blizzard itself devastated areas from the Rockies to the Great
Lakes and left at least 99 dead. In Iowa, National Guard helicopters
brought in 75,000 pounds of hay to starving cattle. Similar efforts were
made throughout the Midwest.
In Chicago, roofs collapsed from the weight of the snow, and
transportation was brought to a standstill for nearly a week. Garbage
trucks were unable to run and the rats took advantage. The salt used to
de-ice the roads caused motor failures on some of the trains. Abandoned
cars slowed snow removal efforts. Buses were at least two hours behind
schedule if they were running at all. After six days, only half of the
runways at O'Hare were open for traffic.
President Carter declared 23 counties in Northern Illinois disaster
areas. Governor James Thompson of Illinois initially toured the state for
photo-ops, but then headed to Florida for a vacation with his family. He
cut his vacation short after citizens expressed outrage. He was not the
only politician to suffer.
Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic, who took over after Richard Daly died
in 1976 and was seen as a caretaker of the office until Daly's son was
ready, lost the Democratic primary to Jane Byrne in on February 27, 1979.
The defeat was widely reported to be a result of his inability to keep the
city open for business during this blizzard. (Byrne won the general
election in April while Bilandic was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court
in 1990 and became the Chief Justice.)
"It snowed, snowed snowed." Newsweek, January 29,