- A snowstorm will pound Chicago this weekend.
- Almost 10 years ago to the day was one of their all-time heaviest snowstorms.
- This Groundhog Blizzard paralyzed travel in parts of the central U.S.
Chicago will dig out from a snowstorm this weekend, but it won’t be anything like the crippling blizzard it endured almost 10 years ago to the day.
In early February 2011, Chicagoland was pummeled by one of their heaviest snowstorms of all time.
Known as the Groundhog Blizzard, this massive storm dumped 21.2 inches of snow at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport from the evening of Jan. 31 through Feb. 2, 2011.
It was their third heaviest snowstorm all-time, trailing only the Jan. 1967 storm (23 inches over two days) and the New Year’s 1999 storm (21.6 inches over three days).
It did set the city’s all-time 24-hour snowfall record, however, as 20 inches of snow buried O’Hare from the afternoon of Feb. 1 through the morning of Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, accompanied by occasional lightning.
That’s over half of the city’s average annual snowfall of 36 inches in just 24 hours.
Wind gusts from 50 to 70 mph reduced visibility to less than one-quarter mile for 11 straight hours at O’Hare and to near zero at Midway Airport on Feb. 1, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
About 1,300 flights were preemptively canceled at both O’Hare and Midway prior to the storm.
The high winds tore off part of a roof panel from Wrigley Field, forcing the closuring of city sidewalks and nearby streets, according to the Midwest Regional Climate Center.
The NWS said the Groundhog 2011 Blizzard was only the second Chicago snowstorm in modern records to be considered a true blizzard based on criteria of sustained winds or frequent gusts and severely-reduced visibility. The aforementioned January 1967 storm was the other.
Snow drifts of 2 to 5 feet were common, with some exceeding 10 feet tall, which made it challenging for city residents to navigate sidewalks, or in some cases, even leave their homes.
This magnitude of snow, wind and drifted snow choked city streets, forcing drivers to abandon their vehicles on Lake Shore Drive in one of the most iconic winter storm scenes in recent years.
However, the NWS office in Chicago said a good forecast issued well in advance cut the number of stranded motorists significantly compared to the January 1967 blizzard.
Despite, that, 11 people in Illinois died in the storm.
A Rare Category 5 Winter Storm
This wasn’t just a Chicago snowstorm.
Blizzard warnings were issued for eight states, from Oklahoma to Lower Michigan, where over 10 inches of snow blanketed the ground.
States of emergency were declared in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
It was the heaviest one (13.2 inches) and two-day (14 inches) snowfalls on record in Tulsa, Oklahoma. One foot of snow fell in Oklahoma City, which forced the closure of Will Rogers World Airport for 20 hours. Parts of the Sooner State picked up 20 inches of snow.
In southeast Wisconsin, vehicles were stranded on Interstates 43 and 94 south of Milwaukee from heavy snow and drifted snow.
The Groundhog 2011 Blizzard was one of only four other storms in the Ohio Valley region since 1900 to be categorized by NOAA as a Category 5 winter storm, the strongest category on the Regional Snowfall Index scale.
The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.