The Weather: The 24-Million-Ton Snow Job

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The 24-Million-Ton Snow Job

Chicagoans knew that the balmy 65° weather could hardly last—it was, after all, the warmest Jan. 24 on record— but they little dreamed how startling the change would be. Within two days, the temperature plummeted to the 20s, snow came cascading down, and icy winds gusted through the streets. Though no stranger to wintry storms, Chicago found itself in the brief space of 24 hours paralyzed by the worst blizzard in its history—a raging storm that tore through large sections of the Midwest and caused at least 75 deaths.

The howling blast began Thursday morning. By midafternoon, Chicago's streets were clogged by wind-whipped snowdrifts and stalled autos. With traffic at a standstill and visibility at zero, tens of thousands of marooned workers had to spend the night in firehouses, hospitals and hotels. On the Calumet Expressway, 1,000 stranded motorists joined hands so that they would not get lost, snaked their way to nearby homes. A 50-year-old woman suffered a fatal heart attack on a stalled bus at 5 a.m. Friday. Not until six hours later could snowbound police remove her body.

Deserted Loop. By the time the storm subsided, thousands of abandoned cars and 500 city buses stood all but buried by a record 23 inches of fresh snow—whose weight was officially estimated at 24 million tons. All schools were closed, and most working people stayed home from their jobs. There were no mail or milk deliveries, and few newspapers found their way to readers. Virtually all travel in and out of the city was hampered; O'Hare International Airport was still closed early this week, the longest shutdown in its history. One newsman surveyed the deserted Loop, dubbed it "Leningrad West."

There was at least one eerily unseasonable spectacle: On Chicago's Roosevelt Road, the scene of three nights of hot-weather rioting last July, Negro hoodlums methodically pillaged stores and trucks, and looting by whites and Negroes alike was common in other parts of the city as well. More than 100 persons were arrested. At one point, police caught ransackers breaking into a Roosevelt Road shoe store. In the exchange of gunfire that resulted, a ten-year-old Negro girl was killed.

View from the Turret. The blizzard's main force battered a 100-mi.-wide strip extending from northeast Missouri to southern Michigan, inconveniencing millions. After widespread freezing rain, ice-laden power lines snapped, leaving dozens of entire communities—and 4,000 families in Kansas City—without electricity. In Michigan, Governor George Romney donned a Cossack hat, commandeered a lumbering National Guard half-track and, grandly manning the turret, cried out encouragement to the citizenry as he rode to the state capitol. In Gary, winds off Lake Michigan piled up 15-ft. snowdrifts, and Indi- ana's Governor Roger Branigin mobilized a National Guard unit to clear the roads—only to find that many of the Guardsmen were themselves snowed in.

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