A look back at the Chicago area’s worst snowstorm
By Carrie Steinweg
LANSING, Ill. (January 25, 2022) – January 26, 2022, marks the 55th anniversary of the the 1967 blizzard, an event that lives two feet deep in the memories of those old enough to recall it. The storm hit northeast Illinois and northwest Indiana and remains the worst snowstorm on record in Chicago.
1967 blizzard takes Chicagoland by surprise
The snowfall began on Thursday, January 26, 1967, at about 5 a.m. Twenty-nine hours later, the area lay blanketed under nearly two feet of snow. A total of 23 inches fell on the city of Chicago, according to the National Weather Service, with similar amounts accumulating in surrounding suburbs like Lansing. The previous record had been a snowfall of 19 inches on March 25 and 26 of 1930.
Without the advanced forecasting technology available today, the snowstorm took people by surprise. January 26, 1967, was a Thursday. The morning snowfall had not accumulated enough to limit morning travel, but snow continued to fall throughout the day, leaving many people stranded away from home overnight.
Not only were inches of snow falling, but winds were measured at 53 miles per hour at Midway Airport, causing immense blowing and drifting throughout the south suburbs. Snow piled up against doorways and windows, and drifts up to six feet high formed throughout the area.
The Thursday snowfall came two days after a warm spell — temperatures reached a high of 65 degrees on Tuesday, January 24. Tuesday’s weather included thunderstorms in the evening, funnel clouds spotted in the southwest part of Chicago, and reports of wind damage from 48-miles-per-hour gusts. The wall of a building under construction at 87th and Stony Island fell, killing one and injuring four others.
On January 25, a cold front moved in. The 9:45 a.m. forecast for Thursday, January 26, called for a high near 30 with northeast winds of 8–15 miles per hour and a 50% chance of precipitation. The forecast was updated overnight to warn of possible accumulation of 4 or more inches of snow by Thursday afternoon, with winds of 15–25 miles per hour.
23 inches of snow stops life in Chicago
By noon on Thursday 8 inches of snow on the ground at O’Hare Airport forced the airport to shut down. Some schools and businesses closed early, but even so, the journey home was treacherous. Cars were abandoned along the way, and people walked through drifts to get to their destination. Some didn’t even attempt the journey, spending the next couple days in the same place they were when the storm began.
By Friday morning, with snow still coming down, Chicago was at a standstill. All transportation was shut down with no planes, trains, or buses going anywhere. Around 20,000 cars and 1,100 CTA buses sat stranded in the snow, according to the National Weather Service.
For kids it was a dream come true — school was cancelled, the snow kept coming down, and there was a winter wonderland to play in. For adults, it was more stressful. People who were close enough to walk to stores cleared the shelves of staples like bread and milk. Some used sleds to get around. Expectant mothers arrived at hospitals by snowplow or bulldozer — the only vehicles that could make their way down the uncleared roads — and at least a dozen babies were reportedly born at home because expecting mothers couldn’t get to a hospital. Helicopter delivery was the only way for medical supplies to reach hospitals, and despite the dangerous flying conditions, pilots made trips to drop off medical supplies and get food and blankets to stranded motorists. In parts of the city, looting occurred.
In Lansing, stranded motorists made their way from I-80 to nearby homes, a church, and the VFW where they sought shelter. A garage at 180th Street and Ridgewood collapsed from the weight of the snow. Streets were eerily absent of traffic, and residents walked in the middle of roads to pull groceries home on sleds.
Clearing the way after the 1967 blizzard
As the snowfall subsided on Friday, the big job of clean-up began. That weekend, snow removal equipment began arriving from Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan to help, but clean-up efforts were hampered by the thousands of abandoned vehicles on the roads. In Chicago, snow was hauled by dump truck and dropped into the Chicago River because there was nowhere else to put it, the National Weather Service said.
Air travel was restored at O’Hare Airport on Monday evening. Most schools opened back up by Tuesday. The National Weather Service reported that by the time the snow stopped falling and the clean-up was finished, sixty people had died. Business losses were estimated around $150 million, which would be over $1 billion in today’s dollars, according to saving.org.
After 55 years, January 25 and 26 of 1967 continue to hold the record for the greatest snowfall from a single storm in Chicago’s history.
Lansing memories of the 1967 blizzard
The Lansing Historical Society posted this video on their Facebook page in 2020, created by Frank Mazzocco:
Below are stories about the 1967 storm shared by people who lived in Lansing at the time:
Sue (Henning) Ekkebus — Naperville, IL
I would have been 10 years old and in 4th grade. I recall they let us out of school early that day, and Rosanne Sikma Lorenz and I had to crawl home from Eisenhower School, up our street, Escanaba Avenue. I remember someone’s car was stuck in the middle of the street, and they asked a 4th grader and a 2nd grader to help push them. And we did! (I thought I would get in trouble for doing that, too!)
My dad was one of the few that arrived home from his job at Ford in Chicago Heights. He left work earlier, as he could see what was happening. He made it home, and my mom had to shovel out the end of the driveway so he could get his car in and off the street. I remember all he did for days was shovel, and he paid two teenage boys to shovel, something that he had never done before. That’s when I knew this snow was something else!
I remember after a few days, we walked down to the expressway and saw all the cars and trucks that were still stuck in the snow. We had some neighbors, the Deckingas, and their mom and grandmother baked bread. Her sons delivered the bread door to door by sled. I think my dad walked to the fire station to get some milk for us.
Another neighbor went into labor, and as my dad described it, she was taken from her home by front end loader to a main street that was a little more clear, where an ambulance took her to the hospital to have her baby.
I remember not having school for a while, and bundling up in snow pants and coat and boots and endlessly playing in the snow in our yard. I seem to remember building a snow hill in the back yard that I could ride down on my metal saucer sled.
As best I remember the snow started on a Friday, the last day of the semester. My cousin and I were freshmen at TF South. We purposely missed our bus in order to sell back our books that we no longer needed. We wanted the cash. Of course we had no idea how much snow had fallen. It was a long walk home for both of us.
Like so many kids our age we grabbed shovels and went out to make money. One neighbor didn’t have a garage. Two cars were parked in his driveway, one behind the other. The snow drifted so high and wide that neither car was visible. I was 14. My brother was nine. We moved snow for hours to get to those two cars.
Donna Krumm — Munster, IN
I was actually a baby during the snowstorm, but my Dad used to tell me his snowstorm story. We lived a block from the Borman Expressway. The drivers who happened to be out in the storm were stuck and eventually had to abandon their cars. Among those vehicles stranded was a milk truck, and the driver got the ok to distribute the milk because it was just going to freeze anyway.
My dad said that a steady stream of neighborhood kids kept bringing them endless gallons of milk because they heard that the Krumms had a new baby. My parents ended up with over 20 gallons because my mom was too polite to tell the kids at the door that we didn’t need anymore milk.
My dad also used to tell me that my mother had just baked a cake as the storm started. The drivers who were abandoning their cars had no place to go, so my dad invited a bunch of them into our house for cake and coffee. Eventually, word got out that the church on Wentworth Ave, which is now the Upper Room Ministries, had opened its facility to house the stranded drivers, and his unexpected house guests then had a place to stay.
I also have a friend whose dad worked in Calumet City and only made it halfway home when he got stranded and had to abandon his car. He, along with a number of stranded drivers, ended up taking shelter and spending the night at a bank that had opened its doors.
Lynn (Bricco) Schmelter — Mason, MI
I was in high school and worked at Gleims on Torrence. Many could not get to work that day, but I lived close and walked. Gleims was a small store, soda fountain, deli, and post office. I mostly remember getting milk. I remember the fire department brought it in. We could not sell it but gave it to people with kids. We also were able to get some bread. We had to limit the amount to each family. I remember it as being exciting and fun. Kids were sledding on Torrence Ave.
Joe Boksa — Merrillville, IN
I was in 6th grade during the big snowstorm of 1967. I was going to Sunnybrook School. Sometime later in the morning, they started bussing kids home. I lived in Oakwood Estates then. I’m not sure what time it was, but they had us get on the bus to go home. We were the last bus out. We got somewhere down the road, and the driver couldn’t get through the snow on the road. The driver had to return to Sunnybrook where we spent the night. We slept on mats and had whatever food, snacks, that were available in the teachers lounge. The next day we all walked behind a huge plow that cleared the streets leading us back to Oakwood Estates. I recall getting home and seeing the snow drifted up to the gutters on the house. All in all, not a bad experience, but has obviously stuck with me over the decades.
Bonnie Persenaire Zigterman — Villa Park, IL
I was 11 years old and in 6th grade. My brother, sister, and I all went to Lansing Christian School and lived about a mile north of there on Maple Ave. We lived right next to 80/94 where it crossed into Indiana. It became obvious as the night wore on that all traffic there was stopped and not going anywhere. At first my dad and other men from the neighborhood brought out coffee and sandwiches for the people stuck in cars now going on five to six hours. Later they went out and collected people from the cars. Many went to stay in the church in our neighborhood, but we and a lot of the neighbors invited people to our homes. We ended up with a truck driver, a traveling salesman, and a family with two or three little kids. As I recall this was a Thursday night, and the two men ended up staying until Sunday. The family stayed until Monday. On either Friday or Saturday one of the men and my dad walked to Burgers (grocery store) with a sled to buy some groceries and some little trinkets to give to one of the kids whose birthday was that day, and we had an impromptu little party for him.
All of these people stopped by at sometime in the following year as they traveled through the area again to thank my folks and visit. They kept in touch for a few years after the big storm.
It was a great time of fun and excitement for us kids. I’m sure it was a little more nerve-wracking for the adults. But the weekend we took in the strangers off the highway remains a great memory for all of us.
Jack Wiers — Arizona
As a TF South sophomore I remember leaving school early. Our school bus driver slowly made her way through the driving snow on the Thursday afternoon, but was unable to drive the normal route through our neighborhood. We were dropped off on Wentworth Ave. and slogged the rest of the way. By this time the snowfall was nearly knee high.
Living at the corner of 175th and Bernadine our home was arguably the closest property to the developing crisis on Interstate 80 and the Wentworth Avenue overpass behind us. By the next day I-80 became an impassible parking lot. As the nearest home, I think three stranded travelers found their way to our house for safety. Others bypassed us and went to nearby homes when we could not keep up with the drifting snow that ultimately barricaded both house doors. This was before the current large walls lined I-80 to limit northern exposure – and I always assumed this storm helped fuel the initiative to construct those barriers that came many years later. But in January 1967, from our elevated front living room picture window we had a relatively unobstructed view of several blocks of stranded cars and trucks on the highway.
By the next day, we needed most of the morning to initially punch our way through the wall of snow that had crusted against both entry points. The southern exposure back door was blocked about chest high but it was ground level and the snow was nearly waist high in most of the drifts that covered our driveway. It was very difficult work, in part, because there was no place to throw the snow – so, slowly, we burrowed out creating a small route from our home to the street featuring chest-high walls of displaced snow.
By midday paths were beginning to be formed, and the neighborhood gained an awareness that a stranded dairy truck was distributing milk and dairy goods to those who could make their way to the truck, a couple of blocks away but a lengthy walk from our place – we didn’t have a need and left it to others.
I can’t exactly recall when the first plows came. Saturday (I believe), or Sunday morning – but that created a new driveway blockade, and I remember thinking, “Where do we shovel the heavy-wet stuff?” I remember a top layer of fluffy snow, but underneath it was wet and dense and extremely heavy. Removing this stuff was real work and helped fuel a neverending passion to live somewhere I would not have to deal with this. I wound up living in Hawaii for 35 years, until recently retiring to Arizona, where snow is only a memory.
By Sunday morning, as emergency crews cleared and began opening the interstate, the rumors began to circulate that bodies had been pulled out of cars that had been nearly completely encased by snow and where people made the fatal decision to wait it out, until it was too late to escape to nearby safety.
By Monday, amazingly, the roads were passable (heroic job Village of Lansing!) to the point where I could navigate my way to TF South and join our scheduled, and much anticipated, drama club tour play, where we traveled the state for five days and performed our 40-minute production at various high schools. Once we left the Chicago area and got as far as Pontiac, Illinois, I remember being amazed the roads were completely clear. And my last vivid memory was our southernmost tour stop – in Metropolis, Illinois (yes there is such a place) – where it was 60 degrees and we played basketball outside wearing just a sweatshirt while nonstop discussion of “the great snowstorm” was quickly morphing into legend. That’s my memory as a 15-year-old of the great snowstorm of ’67.
Dan Giles – Stevens Point, WI
I was nine years old and lived at 18312 Ridgewood. The snow was deep! My dad worked in the Loop, and drove everyday. He got to work the day of the storm, but could not get home. He missed my sister’s one-year-old birthday party on the 26th. He got as far as South Holland and stayed at the Presbyterian church there (now New Beginnings Gospel Ministries Church). Slept on a pew that night. Finally made it home the next day.
While driving was not possible, playing in the snow was a great joy. School was closed! I think we got 24 inches in 24 hours. I remember my brother and his friends getting up on the roof of our house and jumping off into the snow. Neighbors were out and about, making sure everyone had what they needed to make it through the next few days.
We would walk to Van Til’s to get bread and milk and it was an adventure walking in the middle of the street pulling a sled to get provisions. I remember Mr. Van Til had a big smile as he was quite busy. No one in our neighborhood could get to Wilders, Burgers, or National.
I remember reports of 1-80 being completely shut down with trucks and cars stuck where they were. And then the story of the food trucks passing out their milk and bread to people in need. It’s a fond memory.
Bob Collins — Munster, IN
I was a sophomore at TF South at the time and remember walking home in the middle of Burnham Ave to our home in the 174th block of Walter St. We lived one house from the expressway. When the expressway became impassable, two truckers knocked on our door.
There were two twin beds in my bedroom, so they slept in my room for a couple of nights while I camped out in the living room. It was no big deal, and our family was glad to be of help. I remember that they left their rigs running and, eventually, a tanker was able to bring them a re-supply of fuel.
Apparently, upon their return to the terminal, they related their adventure to their manager who then informed upper management. A few weeks later I received a letter from Mid-American Truck Lines thanking me for giving my bedroom to the two drivers. Along with the letter was a gold pocket knife with the Mid-American logo and the words “Safety Award.” The company presented me with a safety award given to drivers with years of safe driving. I was amazed! To me, giving up my room for a couple of nights was no big deal. Camping out in the living room was an adventure. I still have that knife as a treasured keepsake.
Judy Alderden — Lansing, IL
I was in 8th grade at Lansing Christian School when the snow started. Some of the busses must not have been running because various modes of transportation had taken some kids home. A lot of us were left to wait. The older kids entertained the younger ones until everyone finally had a ride home.
We knew there had to have been a lot of snow when “Pete the Milkman” showed up at church on Sunday morning handing out Pleasant View Dairy milk to those who hadn’t been able to get out to the store. It was a turning point for some of us Dutch girls, as it was the first time we were allowed to put on pants/snow pants on Sunday and go out to play, jumping off the roof of the house into the drifts. I also remember something about my brother outrunning a rabbit that just couldn’t hop through such deep snow. I’m pretty sure it ended up on the dinner table.
Pam VanAustin — Lansing, IL
I was 11 years old, and my Mom drove us to school that morning. I believe it was a little after lunchtime we were told to get our coats and boots on because our parents were picking us up. My Dad worked at the post office early in the day, so he was off of work and came and picked us up. It was snowing and blowing hard and the roads were a mess. My Mom worked at Holiday Inn (now the United Motel) on Torrence and I 80/94 as a waitress and had gone to work. When we got home, we just stayed in the house and watched the snow fall, blow and drift. My Mom called and said that she wasn’t going to be able to come home after work because the expressway was bad and the state police were rescuing stranded motorists from the expressway and bringing them to the hotel for shelter.
The next day I remember opening our back door, which was on ground level, only to find a drift completely covering the screen door. My sister and I looked out our dining room window and could see that the snow had drifted up to the bottom of the window, which was about 7 feet from the ground. Thankfully our front door was at the top of the front stairs and we would be able to get out of the house that way. Sometime later, my best friend walked to my house, and we walked to Ridge Road. We laid in the middle of the road and made snow angels, just because we could! There was no traffic yet.
My Mom wasn’t able to make it home for a couple of days. When she did, she was exhausted. The hotel had reserved a room for the waitresses so that they could sleep and shower and work in shifts to keep the coffee going and help with whatever food that the hotel had for all the people that were rescued. I remember her saying that people were laying in the lobby, in the banquet room and anywhere they could find a place to lay.
We did have fun, after the snow stopped. And I have very vivid memories of what it looked like and how scary it was at the time. I hope to never experience a snowstorm like that again.
Kim Kelsven Ollo — Munster, IN
Although the snow of ’67 was a pain for most adults, for us kids it was the best week ever!
I was in 3rd grade at Trinity Lutheran School, which was within walking distance to our house on Arcadia. I remember being released early as the administrators could tell this was gonna be a bad one. Because girls weren’t allowed to wear pants to school, I remember trudging home with snow reaching my knees and each step felt like a lead weight!
We had never seen snow that deep in our area, but my parents who had spent several winters in North Dakota were somewhat used to it. My dad was a heavy equipment mechanic, so our neighbor, Mayor McNary, asked if he could get to a piece of equipment to help move the mountains of snow that had accumulated. I believe my dad’s picture ended up in the Lansing Journal on the “big green monster” truck that he cleared some roads with.
I remember walking down our alley with my mom pulling our sled as we needed to pick up milk, bread and eggs from Gleims General Store on Torrence Avenue. We almost got stuck a few times and after our shopping, I remember standing in the middle of Torrence Avenue chatting with someone she knew. There were no cars to be found as the street was completely covered in deep snow. Such an odd feeling to stand in the middle of the road without its usual traffic!
Our days were spent building snow forts, snowball fights, sledding and marveling at how we could almost touch the gutters on the roof if we stood in the right spot!
We missed a week’s worth of school which had to be made up in June. That part I didn’t really mind as it was the only time I got to attend school on my June 11th birthday and bring cupcakes for my class! It was a memorable week for sure!
Pam Winterhoff Edrington — California
I was 11 years old, my middle sister Sharon was 8, and my little sister Sally was 5, which explains why she wasn’t able to make the trek home from St. John’s Lutheran School as we lived over by Schultz Park. It was a long walk and especially in the snow. We do remember our mom telling us not to talk as we walked home since she knew talking would get us out of breath and more tired…..and what was she going to do with two tired children who were only halfway home?
My dad and his friend, Ron, walked to the liquor store to get beer and used one of our kid sleds to transport their beer back home. They brought a blanket along to cover the beer so others wouldn’t notice it but unfortunately, the sled took a bad turn on Ridge Road and the beer bottles fell on to the street for everyone to see. (Luckily, no beer was spilled.)
I was working at Burgers at the time. Drove home for lunch and walked back from 175th & Greenbay to get my girlfriend’s car. Made it back to her house at the end of my shift. I was stranded there for two days. My dad was mad at me.
Barb Dust — Lansing, IL
I was a nursing student at University of Illinois at the Medial Center (now UIC). My pattern was to come home to Lansing every weekend and see my boyfriend (now husband) who was coming from Valparaiso University. We were sophomores in college at the time.
The patients were stuck in the hospital, but no workers could come. All the medical and nursing students were asked to go to work in the hospitals and do work of the aides. We did that, but I never got to travel home. I called my parents, but didn’t get in touch with Rich. We didn’t have cell phones back then. Rich followed a snowplow all the way home from Valparaiso to Lansing only to find that I wasn’t there, so he never let me forget that. It was so devastating for the people who couldn’t get to work in the hospital. I stayed at school and didn’t go home again until the following weekend.
Mike Sawyer — Dekalb County, IL
I was one of the young men on my block assigned to go to the store (IGA) on Torrence Ave. We lived by Indiana Avenue primary school. Had to go since there were several babies, young children, and elderly. There were 3 or 4 of us. We grabbed some sleds and rope to secure items.
While it was only a half-mile walk, I think it took about two hours round trip, including scouring the stores. Others had the same idea. We got as much as we could. Not as much as had been requested, but we got the food to people.
Steven Mares — Lansing, IL
I lived at 171st St and Greenbay. I was seven years old and felt like we were buried in the snow. My grandmother was late coming home. She was stuck in Calumet City and walked home. She turned the corner off Burnham, and we all ran out to help her home. It was just an unbelievable storm.
This was at the back of our house by the driveway January 1967. Our grade school on Indiana Avenue had the best snow hills around. The town used to dump some of the excess snow in the parking lot there. Loved going down there to climb the hills. They seemed like mountains to us at the time.
Craig Walker – Wautoma, WI
A snowbank blew up against our neighbor’s garage, so we tunneled back about five feet, then turned toward one another! Great snow fort that never actually collapsed, but sagged until the ceiling touched the floor! That’s Terry Collins with the glasses and me on the right.
Bill Hastings – Leesville, SC
I was in 8th grade at Memorial Jr. High School. I remember it snowing big flakes, and there was an announcement that they were sending us home early. While we were waiting for the buses to arrive, we were in our home room. When the teacher left the room, several of us opened the windows and began throwing snowballs in the classroom. Needless to say we got caught and got a swat with the paddle. I lived on the corner of 170th and Greenbay Ave., and several of us that lived on the north end of town decided we would walk home instead of taking the bus. We had so much fun playing in the snow on our way home.
Here’s a couple photos I have of our house at the corner of 170th and Greenbay Ave.
An editorial in an archived edition of the Lansing Journal begins, “There will come a day when someone will sit down to tell their grandchildren the story of the ‘Great Blizzard of 1967.'” The editorial turned out to be prescient, as many of the heroic examples cited are exactly the memories submitted above.
To read the original coverage of the 1967 blizzard as reported by the Lansing Journal of that time, view or download the digitized PDF of the February 2, 1967, edition:
The Lansing Historical Society spent two years digitizing paper copies of the Lansing Journal dating back to 1935. Their work is accessible online through the Lansing Public Library: