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Snowpacolypse Now: The view from Chicago

Today’s newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

Snowpacolypse Now: The view from Chicago

The WISCH LIST

Feb. 5, 2011

It’s been called the Windy City.

(And, boy, was it ever on Tuesday night.)

It’s been called the City of Big Shoulders (and, after shoveling, a city of sore ones). It’s been called the City That Works (well, in most weather). And it’s been called that Toddlin’ Town (or, if you’re navigating snow-smothered sidewalks, that waddlin’ one).

Yes, Chicago has a lot of nicknames.

But, after serving this week as Ground Zero for an historic blizzard so epic that it could have made Fargo blush, our state’s snow-swept metropolis earned itself a brand new one.

Welcome to Chiberia.

Rocky Balboa would have just loved training here.

For the past 5½ years, I’ve lived in the northeastern province of Chiberia, aka Wrigleyville. And, during that time, I’ve seen my fair share of city storms, including May microbursts and December blizzards. But it wasn’t until Tuesday night that I saw both happen at once when Chicago was simultaneously thunderstruck by 20 inches of thundersnow and 70 mph wind gusts off the lake.

The wicked combination of elements was something to behold. And I certainly beheld it, watching as the wind whipped outside my third-floor apartment’s window and peeking my head out the building’s front door every hour or so to monitor a snowfall so stunning that it earned its own flurry of nicknames, including “Snowprah,” “snOMG” and “Snowtorious B.I.G.”

During the night, the Abominable Snowstorm not only famously trapped hundreds of drivers along Lake Shore Drive, but also stranded a taxi – at a diagonal angle – in the middle of my street after it dropped off a fare.

The passengers went inside, but the cab stayed put – until Thursday.

Hopefully, they tipped well.

At just midday on Tuesday, I had been skeptical as to whether the Storm of the Century would actually live up to its considerable hype. And while having lunch at a neighborhood coffee shop, I mused meteorologically with a 70-ish gentleman who had weathered Chicago’s famous Blizzard of 1967.

“I was performing in a play in the Loop in ’67,” the man, named Guy, recalled, “And I ended up stuck in a hotel for 10 straight days, even though our show was canceled for nine of them. At one point, I got so stir crazy that I walked through two feet of snow to go see a movie that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, ‘The Sound of Music.’ ”

Both Guy and I wondered if the meteorologists were just singing us a tune with the dire storm forecasts and we parted ways with the words, “I guess we’ll see.”

Well, we saw, all right.

Until we couldn’t from the white-out conditions.

On Wednesday afternoon, once the second blast of lake-effect snow finally ceased, I bundled up, exited my apartment and entered “Into the Wild.” And the snow carnage I encountered in Wrigleyville practically took my visible breath away.

Every side street was covered in three- and four-foot drifts. An empty CTA bus had been abandoned – in mid-turn – at the intersection of Sheffield and Grace, completely blocking the street. Part of Wrigley Field’s roof laid in a heap in front of its iconic marquee, which appeared to be missing a chunk itself.

Eventually, I made my way over to the shuttered Lake Shore Drive, where I strolled down the barren expressway. But despite the incredible mess, everyone that I saw outdoors was wearing a huge grin while taking it all in from a Chicago storm experience that was both awesome and awe-inspiring.

Yes, we’re buried under two feet of snow, but I still wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else in the world this week.

Chiberia, it’s my kind of town.

Car owners had a snowball in Chicago this week.
Car owners had a snowball in Chicago this week.