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updated: 2/5/2011 7:33 PM

Blizzard is third-worst in history

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  • A car slid into a ditch early Thursday on an icy Route 176 just west of Island Lake. The blizzard was the third worst in state history on record.

       A car slid into a ditch early Thursday on an icy Route 176 just west of Island Lake. The blizzard was the third worst in state history on record.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
 

The blizzard that stranded drivers, shut down workplaces and kept suburban snowblowers humming for days last week wasn't the biggest in Chicago-area history.

But it was close.

The National Weather Service says its official count of 20.2 inches of snow at O'Hare International Airport ranks only behind 23 inches in 1967 and 21.6 inches in 1999.

Those are the only three times a single winter storm has dumped more than 20 inches of snow on the Chicago area at once.

The biggest recorded snowfall in Illinois this go-round was in Beach Park in Lake County and Addison, both with 22.5 inches.

The highest recorded wind speed in the suburbs was 63 mph at Waukegan Harbor.

Even before the nearly unprecedented snow hit, the blizzard brought with it a nearly unprecedented amount of hype.

"I think you could have been living in a cave and still have known about this," said National Weather Service spokesman Pat Slattery.

Slattery said forecasters got it right on the storm, both on the timing and severity. That gave drivers time to get off the roads and suburban homeowners to stock up on shovels and salt to handle their own driveways.

It also gave local and state officials time to prepare.

Gov. Pat Quinn mobilized more than 500 National Guard troops to help rescue stranded motorists. The National Guard's assistance during a winter storm is rare.

Spokeswoman Stephanie McCurry said the last time it happened was five years ago in 2006, when about 250 troops helped with the aftermath of an ice storm downstate.

It's unclear, she said, when the last time National Guard troops helped in the Chicago area.

Quinn's office thanked state workers for their response.

"Nearly the entire state was affected by this major winter storm, but by working together we were able to help more than 4,000 people in distress and ensure that essential state services were continued without interruption," he said.

In addition to the more than 4,000 motorists helped, Quinn said 2,800 plow drivers cleared 16,500 miles of highway, using 1,629 trucks.

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