Friday, February 4, 2011

The Blizzard of 1918 - A Comparison

The museum archives contains a photo showing the 2000 block of South Prairie Avenue following the great blizzard of 1918 (top photo, with same view taken February 2, 2011 shown underneath).  The 1918 storm, which was the worst blizzard in the city’s recorded history up to that time, paralyzed the city for days.  Lest we focus too much on the inconveniences brought about by this week’s storm (the third worst in the city’s history, following those in 1967 and 1999) here are a few facts about the 1918 blizzard:

-The storm started at on Sunday January 6, 1918 and continued well into Monday.  Church services were cancelled across the city.

-A total of 14.8 inches of snow fell atop the 4.5 inches already on the ground, resulting in a snow pack of nearly 20 inches.

-Winds of up to 60 miles per hour caused drifts 6 to 7 feet high in many areas.

-Communication to the “outside world” was largely cut off due to damage to a significant percentage of telephone and telegraph lines.

-A severe milk shortage resulted from the incapacitation of virtually all transcontinental rail lines.  Of the 1,500,000 gallons of milk expected on Sunday, less than 1/3 made it to the city, and little of that could be delivered as milk wagons could not navigate the snow clogged streets.

-A severe coal shortage resulted as well for the same reasons.  Many industries (including those helping the war effort) were shut down so that the available supply of coal could be directed towards homes, hospitals, etc.

-Residents were urged to help dig out the streets so that deliveries could be made, and also to uncover fire plugs.  Many buildings burned to the ground when the fire department was unable to get their equipment to the location.

-Nearly half of the street lights in the city were out, and virtually all streetcars and suburban rail lines were out of commission.

-Schools were closed for a week so that pupils could help shovel out the streets.

-Just when things started to improve, the city was hit with a second storm on January 12, which dumped an additional 8 inches of snow amidst 30 mile per hour winds and temperatures dipping down to 14 degrees below zero.  Most church services were cancelled for a second week, largely because the churches had no coal to heat their buildings.

(NOTE:  The only house in the 1918 picture that survives today is the cream-colored brick rowhouse of William H. Reid at 2013 S. Prairie, visible in the center of the picture)


  1. With everthing that Chicago residents suffered during 1918, makes getting stuck on Lakeshore Drive for a few hours (or ending up in a ditch) not seem so bad. Any mention of these events and their effects in Mrs. Glessner's journal?

  2. it's amazing how much less ferocious today's picture looks. i guess the snow removal efforts DO pay off

  3. Mrs. Glessner's journal stops in 1917, so we don't know what effect the blizzard may have had on the Glessners or their home.


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