Jan
10

Chiberia 2015: The Brutal Truth is That Chicago Winters Have Been Worse

January 10, 2015

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[photo via Creative Commons by Chad Kainz]

As much as Chicagoans seem to take a certain smug pride in surviving sub-zero winters, we also have a bit of a cottage industry in town dedicated to weather hyperbole and complaining about the snow. But how bad is it, really? DNAinfo recently delved into the history of Chicago winters, and as Ted Cox points out, it definitely could be a lot worse. Take the blizzard of 1967, when 23 inches fell during a single storm. According to Peter Alter, resident historian at the Chicago History Museum, the city had no idea what to do with such a huge volume of snow, so at one point, “they put it on train cars, and they shipped it to Florida for kids who had never seen snow.” Or the 98 straight hours on below-zero weather the city experienced over the holidays in 1983. In addition to digging up references to brutal winter storms in music and literature, Cox also noted that in the past, the city actually strung ropes down State Street to assist Chicagoans being tossed around in punishing winds.

There’s also plenty of additional evidence that last year wasn’t quit as bad, historically, as we may think, and that previous generations may have been a bit tougher. Whet Moser examined the history of school closings due to extreme cold and points to 1977 as the date of the “wussification of society.” Before then, schools didn’t close with any sort of regularity — in January 1963, a group of students caught frostbite walking to school during a day registering 18-below temperatures. But, if you need stats and analysis to settle the argument, a scientist with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association did an extensive analysis of climate data to create an Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index. Her results suggest, while 2013-2014 was pretty bad, it still can’t touch some of the legendary storms of the past.

· The History of Winter in Chicago: It Could Be Worse (And It Definitely Was) [DNAinfo]
·Chicago’s Been Canceling School Due to Extreme Cold For Decades[Chicago Magazine]
·Just how bad is this Chicago winter? [WBEZ]

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