This weekend marks the 11th anniversary of the January 1-3, 1999 snowstorm that produced
22 inches of snow in Chicago, the second most snowfall for any single storm system, ranking
just behind the January 1967 blizzard. Soon after the snow ended, record low
temperatures occurred with values of -20 degrees or lower in parts of Illinois and surrounding
states on January 3 and 4. The areas with the heaviest snows, 15 inches or more, included
Illinois (central and north), Wisconsin (southern), Indiana (central and north), Michigan (southern),
and Ohio (northern).
The governor of Illinois declared the entire state a disaster area on January 4, 1999 and on
January 20 of that year, President Clinton declared 45 Illinois counties disaster areas (half the state)
and subject to receiving Federal relief. Areas of Indiana were also declared disaster areas.Any such large-scale record winter storm creates numerous serious impacts on human life and
property. Many of the worst impacts were associated with the storm's effects on transportation.
Every form of Midwestern transportation was either halted and delayed by 2 to 4 days, or greatly
slowed, and transportation problems were the source of many accidents and deaths.
Auto and train-related deaths totaled 39 with 5 more dead due to snowmobile accidents.
The storm's impact on commercial aviation was staggering at Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
United Airlines canceled 60% of its O'Hare flights during the 2-day storm. O'Hare
Airport had 300,000 travelers stranded for up to 4 days. Costs were staggering, in
the millions of dollars, and the stress on travelers was immense, particularly since the
storm occurred on New Year’s weekend.Navigation on the major Midwestern rivers was reduced by 50%. The cold temperaturesduring and after the storm created large ice floes on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, andthese limited safe barge movement and the operation of locks and dams.Cities in the storm's main track experienced enormous problems and costs in achieving snow
removal. Fortunately, the storm was accurately predicted several days in advance and some
cities such as Chicago made major preparations that lessened the storm's long-term impacts.
Most Chicago streets had been cleared by January 3. The city put 850 snow removal trucks on
the streets, with the cost of the snow removal and salt in the Chicago metropolitan area estimated
to be at $44 million (1999 dollars), with $14 million at O’Hare alone.The huge effect on transportation produced major impacts on retail business and school
openings. Most retailers were closed for 1 to 2 days, and lost business for several days
after the storm, but those selling snow removal equipment topically sold out their supplies.
The blocked streets and country roads led to multi-day school closings throughout the 5-state
area where the storm struck. Even by January 9, a week after the storm, only 47% of the students
in Chicago schools were able to attend classes.
Text adapted from story by Stanley Changnon, Midwest Climate Center