Our region was blan-keted with a massive snow, followed by the lowest tempera-tures in more than 20 years. It has been a year for Kokomo and surrounding areas: floods, tornadoes and then the most severe winter in decades. As a result, many of us have come to appreciate the professionals we often take for granted: police, fire, emergency management, street department workers, fire and flood recovery businesses, heating repair personnel, our elected officials and non-elected city managers and personnel, linemen who restore our electricity — even neighborhood kids willing to shovel walkways for a few dollars.
Today I am going to share a little about some of the blizzards and frigid experiences I remember. Let me begin with my biggest, the Chicago Blizzard of 1967.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the storm hit Chicago on Jan. 26, 1967. Four days before, the outdoor temperature had reached 65 degrees! The snow accumulated to 23 inches, but drifts towered 6 feet high.
Fortunately where we lived, kids walked to school; we did not need to camp out in school buildings, as some did. They released us early that day. Residents made a rush to the local grocery stores for bread and milk, and it wasn’t long until supplies were depleted. On the second day, my mom sent me to the small “ma and pa” Italian bread bakery half a block away. Their business was thriving: As fast as they made the bread, they sold it to waiting customers. I walked home with a piping hot loaf of crusty Vienna-style Italian bread. It never tasted better.
The neighbor boys and I built a large fort of snow. We built snowmen, igloos, and had plenty of snowball fights with the kids in another nearby fort! It was like a trip to an amusement park — but free and seemingly endless. We were free from school for several days, without being sick!
Eventually the trucks and buses got through, and life in the metropolitan area transitioned into its traditional mode.
I have a question for you. The great snowstorm of the latter ’70s – was it 1978 or 1979? The answer is, “it depends.” The Great Blizzard of 1978 hit Kokomo, but not so much Chicago, while the Blizzard of 1979 shut down Chicago and was no big deal in Kokomo. The Kokomo answer is 1978, the Chicago answer is 1979. These were two distinct events.
The Great Blizzard of 1978 took place between Jan. 25-27 of 1978. South Bend was hit hardest: 36 inches of snow! Indianapolis was hit with more than 15, and Kokomo (I believe) received about 20 inches (correct me if I am wrong!). The Great Blizzard of 1978 has been Kokomo’s standard for measuring severe storms ever since. Chicago, however, only received about 12 inches, notable but not that unusual at the time.
The Great Blizzard of 1979, however, did etch the Chicago memory. It hit the area Jan. 13-14 of 1979, leaving 18.8 inches in its wake. The people of the Chicago area are not patient (or realistic) about snow removal — even in the midst of such a massive snow. Mayor Michael Bilandic was blamed for not getting the roads plowed fast enough — and lost the primary that year because of it. After Bilandic’s demise, the plows in Chicago are out en masse with the first snowflake!
Our last winter in Chicago (1982-83) saw an all-time low temperature record for Chicago, 30-below zero (I don’t do the “wind chill” nonsense). The finishing nails on our doorpost in our apartment were all evident, because they formed wads of frost on their tiny heads.
When we relocated to Kokomo in 1983, we heard the temperature was typically 5 degrees warmer. On Christmas day in 1983, Kokomo’s temperature dropped down to 25-below zero. There was an ice emergency because of the sudden drop. So it wasn’t snow and cold, but ice and cold.
With tons of snow and super cold — 2014 might be a first! Whether it will replace the 1978 winter as the standard for severity remains to be seen — but it might. Is it time for, “I survived the winter of 2014” T-shirts? Strike that. Make it sweatshirts!
Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.