Storm brings back memories of Chicago's infamous Blizzard of '79

Jeff Bobo • Dec 11, 2018 at 8:18 AM

I doubt if many dogs in the world love playing in the snow more than my little black Lab/Schnauzer mix Maggie Mae.

But Maggie bit off a little more than she could chew Sunday when it got over a foot deep at our house.

As an amateur dog psychiatrist, I'd love to know what she's thinking when I let her out to pee in the morning and inexplicably the ground is coated with this cold, white powdery stuff that wasn't there when we were playing Frisbee the night before.

Since I'm the one who feeds her, gives her treats and brings her home new toys, I'd like to think she credits me with providing this amazing new frozen wonderland.

More likely, in her mind the concept of “why” doesn’t exist. This is her new reality, yesterday is forgotten and there is no tomorrow. All that matters is enjoying the moment.

Sunday morning, Maggie was enjoying the moment at first, and she hit the snow with her usual explosion of enthusiasm.

In the 22 years since I moved below the Mason-Dixon line, I can't remember seeing that much snow accumulation in such a short period of time.

It was definitely the most snow I've seen since Maggie arrived five years ago, and it didn't take her long to figure out something was different.

She was sinking in deeper, and it was taking a lot more effort for her to get back out. Usually she hops and prances effortlessly through the snow like a bunny rabbit.

She was hopping and prancing Sunday morning, albeit with a lot less gusto.

At one point, she stopped shoulder deep in snow and looked at me with an expression that said, "This isn't really working for me."

Eventually she worked her way onto the front porch overlooking a sea of white that was growing deeper before our very eyes. She scanned her domain for a moment, looked at me with disgust and went to the door.

"Let me in, Dad. I've had enough."

Believe me, Maggie, I can relate. As a young pup, I loved playing in the snow, too. Then I got more then I could handle in January 1979.

Exactly one month from today will mark the 40th anniversary of Chicago's infamous "Blizzard of 1979".

Only a week removed from the end of our two-week Christmas break, the Blizzard of 1979 dumped so much snow on the Lake Michigan shoreline it took three weeks to get it cleaned up enough for schools to reopen.

During a 48-hour period of Jan. 12-14, we got more than 21 inches of snow, and that was on top of the 7 inches we had left over from New Year’s Eve that hadn't melted yet.

You just can't imagine living with that much snow until you've seen it with your own eyes.

Roads were more like canyons with 20-foot high cliffs of snow piled in people's front yards. When they plowed the school parking lot, it created a pile of snow the size of a two-story farmhouse.

School was canceled, but a lot of us ended up at school anyway building elaborate forts with tunnels and slides in the massive snow pile. We had three or four forts in the same snow pile and attacked each other’s forts with snow balls.

Snow drifts were so high against houses you could literally go sledding off your roof.

It was kid paradise for about three days. Then came the big freeze.

It went subarctic on us, with a wind-chill factor of 70-below-zero blowing off Lake Michigan. We woke up one morning to find our house doors completely frozen shut, held tight by a thick layer of ice around the door frame.

You couldn't stand to be outside for more than a couple of minutes at a time. That wind would cut you to the bone.

It seems like winters used to be a lot rougher than they are today, but the winter of 1979 was a REALLY rough one.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce Weather Bureau, Chicago's average annual snowfall is 33 inches and rarely exceeds 40 inches.

Since 1899, there have only been four Chicago winters when total snowfall exceeded 60 inches, but during the winter of 1979 we got 88.4 inches of snow.

By the end of January, there was an accumulation of more than 47 inches on the ground, most of which was compacted ice. We didn’t even see the ground again until March.

It's hard to believe a 10-year-old would start missing school, but that's what happened.

A lad can only tolerate so much Campbell's soup, Monopoly, and Chutes and Ladders.

It’s called Cabin Fever, and you can treat the symptoms with a steady dose of “The Price is Right,” “The Gong Show” and reruns of “Gilligan's Island,” “The Monkees” and “Tom and Jerry.” 

Within a week of confinement, you’re going to crack up, and that’s what started to happen to Maggie on Sunday afternoon. One day equals a week to her, but she was starting to crack up by lunchtime.

You can keep her occupied for a while with her stuffed cow or a ball, but eventually she’s back at the door wanting to go out and play.

Then the same scenario plays itself out. “Up to my chin in snow. This isn’t any fun. Let me back in.”

Fortunately for Maggie, yesterday is forgotten and all that matters is enjoying the moment. And at the moment the snow has melted back down to a level she can enjoy.


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