Forty years ago today Forest Park was basking in 65-degree temperatures. It was the third day temperatures had soared above 60 degrees. That fact is often lost though in the memories of what happened over the next several days when the village and greater Chicago was clobbered with record amounts of snowfall and frigid temperatures.
On Jan. 25, 1967, a low front moved into the Midwest, dragging up warm Gulf Coast air, laden with massive amounts of moisture, which hit the Chicago area with rain and 50 mph winds. Over the next 24 hours the moist warm air collided with much colder air and rose above it. Fat droplets of water then began slowly sifting downward. The result was snow – lots and lots of it.
The Chicago area had practically no warning of what would be the largest two-day snowfall in its history. After predicting flurries but little accumulation the night before, the National Weather Service issued a bulletin at 3:45 a.m. on Jan. 26 predicting “up to four inches.”
Ironically, the Jan. 26, 1967, issue of the Oak Leaves being tossed onto porches around Oak Park that Thursday morning featured a large photo of the park district’s new snow making machine blowing snow onto the bare sledding hill at Ridgeland Common.
There would be no lack of white stuff that morning, nor for a month afterwards.
The snow began falling at 5:02 a.m. on Jan. 26, and by the time the general population heard of the revised weather forecast from newspapers and radio later that morning, there were at least four inches already on the ground. When it finally stopped 29 hours later at 10:10 a.m. on Friday, Forest Park, Oak Park, River Forest and the rest of northern Illinois lay paralyzed under a thick 23-inch blanket of frozen white powder, blown into drifts as high as six feet by 25 mph winds. An estimated 75 million tons of snow fell on Chicago alone.
News reports from the early months of 1967 show that Forest Park may have been the envy of the western suburbs, thanks to a superior snow-removal effort in the village. “Lambke is hero,” proclaimed a front page headline in the Forest Park Review, referring to then commissioner Mike Lambke who headed the effort.
A letter to the editor in the Feb. 9, 1967, Oak Leaves jealously touted the village’s efficiency.
“When will we in Oak Park have snow removal equal to Forest Park?” wrote Robert Simpson. “Right now we look pretty silly by comparison.”
The “storm of the century” was far more than just a two day event. From Jan. 23 through Feb. 24, Mother Nature suffered from meteorological bi-polar disorder, swinging from warm to bitter cold, from rain to snow with winds as strong as 62 mph in the western suburbs.
The villages would be hit with another foot of snow over the next 10 days, and Forest Park endured one of the snowiest and coldest winters on record.
Area streets were impassable. Garbage collection was suspended while the trucks were diverted to snowplowing duties. Grocery stores ran out of basic food items like bread and milk. One journalist described people’s behavior as “heroism mixed with hoarding.”
The relatively new Eisenhower Expressway system was reduced to a wind swept tundra littered with hundreds of vehicles, half-buried by drifts. Snowplows were called in from as far away as Iowa to help clear the crucial artery. But it would be days before many commuters again trusted the expressway as a viable thoroughfare.
The Congress line – now the CTA’s Blue Line – was knocked out of service for several hours on Sunday by drifting snow around Central Avenue and by a derailment in the Desplaines rail yard in Forest Park.
Here in Forest Park, residents from all walks of life pitched in to restore order. Then fire chief Del Marousek spoke highly of the volunteer effort.
“Marousek is especially proud of the Cub and Boy Scouts who mushed through 24 inches of snow to clear fire hydrants,” the Review reported that winter.
While Forest Park officials utilized its four-block-long park along Harrison Street as both a parking lot and a place to dump excess snow, Chicago was wrestling with an estimated 20,000 abandoned cars and buses. Thousands more were left buried under the snow in Oak Park and River Forest.
Though removal efforts were at their peak, the community did not escape the storm unscathed. A portion of the roof on the Field Stevenson school building collapsed under the weight. No injuries were reported and engineers were able to shore up the sagging ceiling before a total collapse occurred.
As Thursday morning moved toward noon, it was becoming apparent that this wasn’t just any snowstorm. At the end of the weekend, West Suburban Hospital’s emergency room received five people dead on arrival, all older people stricken while shoveling snow. Another 22 people were treated for weather-related conditions such as falls, exposure and heart attacks.
The historic snowfall had at least one very positive effect – the purest air the area had experienced in decades. The monitoring station at River Forest Middle School reported a pollution rate of minus 13.889.
The heavy snow acted like a magnet on particulate pollution, pulling it from the sky as it fell. With few automobile engines spewing exhaust fumes, the air stayed beautifully clear throughout the weekend.