Remembering the Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011, five years later

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CHICAGO — It was a storm for the ages; it was one Chicagoans could forever point to as illustrative of their winters’ exceptionalism.

The Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011, which crippled Chicago for more than a day, was also nicknamed by some as “Snowpocalypse” or “Snowmageddon” because of its surreal ability to put everyday life on hold. Monday, February 1, marks the five-year anniversary of the beginning of the storm, which eventually dropped 21.2 inches of snow on the city.

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The 2011 blizzard is currently the third-largest snowstorm in Chicago's history since 1884, trailing only ones in 1999 and 1967. The whiteout conditions infamously stranded hundreds of cars on Lake Shore Drive overnight, as snow and high winds made lanes impassable. Some drivers opted to stay in their cars for several hours. The crisis later prompted the city to begin construction on a Lake Shore Drive emergency escape route to avoid another epic snag in traffic.

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"It'll be a while since we see a storm like that again, we can only hope," remarked WGN-TV chief meteorologist Tom Skilling. Skilling said he and his crew were engaged in wall-to-wall coverage at the time for WGN-TV, and he invited them to his home as a brief reprieve since he lived closer to work than some of the producers.

Recounted Skilling, "We got in the car and went to my place in the middle of this howling wind and these six-foot drifts at about two in the morning. There were CTA buses stalled in snow drifts as we went home."

A few hours later, it was up and back to work, Skilling said.

Skilling wasn't alone. Reporters Marcella Raymond and Tom Negovan braved the elements, reporting from the streets and from Lake Shore Drive.

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"It was so hard to get to (Lake Shore Drive)," Raymond recounted. "When we got there, it was absolutely horrible to see all those people stranded. They had no heat, they had run out of gas, they hadn't eaten, they weren't able to go to the bathroom. We hadn't realized at that point in time that they had been there for hours and hours and hours."

WGN's Tom Negovan reports during the Blizzard of 2011.

WGN's Tom Negovan reports during the Blizzard of 2011.

"I remember actually breaking one of our live trucks," remembered Negovan. "I opened the door along Lake Shore Drive and the gale-force wind tore it out of my hand, bending it backward on the hinges."

Negovan added, "I used to walk to school across a frozen lake or ride there on my snowmobile. Both of those memories honestly seem toasty compared to that night."

The blizzard took the lives of people throughout Illinois, including one person who was swept into Lake Michigan. Weather-related deaths were also reported in suburbs such as Grayslake, Downers Grove, Mundelein and Mount Prospect.

A few years passed before Chicago saw another storm with such magnitude. In 2015 the city was buried under 19.3 inches of snow during Super Bowl weekend (January 31 - February 2). The Super Bowl Blizzard would go down as the city's fifth-largest snowstorm since 1884.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH WGN'S SPECIAL: 'SNOWED UNDER: THE STORY OF THE 2011 BLIZZARD'

 

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