Suburban weather drama: Fear of floods follows record cold

Posted1/12/2014 5:00 AM
  • My sister's icicles.

    My sister's icicles. Photo courtesy of Marilee Feldman

The idea germinated when the guy sitting next to me in the sauna, during the height of last week's cold snap, mentioned the dramatic rescue.

I think it was on a rural road in Wisconsin. The guy used a snowmobile to rescue a young man, clad in a windbreaker, whose car was trapped in snow in bitter cold. His lips were blue, and he fell off his rescuer's snowmobile more than once because he couldn't hold on. It all turned out OK, though.

Such drama, in various shades, seemed to be running rampant a few days ago. So, I thought, let's find some ways to poll people on what they view as our worst winter weather event, and run a piece that examines the misery value of, say, the Blizzard of '67 with the one of 2011. Or perhaps the joy of watching the temperature -- not the wind chill -- dip to minus 26 and minus 27 in 1982 and '83. That 1983 was a heck of a year: We also set the record for most consecutive hours below zero: 100.

In fact, there's just a plethora of weather extremes on the website of the National Weather Service Forecast Office, Chicago branch. I also learned, after mentioning to my colleagues that I heard a new weather term on TV Friday morning: freezing fog. Turns out there are at least a half dozen different types of fog. Who knew?

Anyway, back to my great idea. I was so enthusiastic about it, I offered to head up the task force to make it happen. As we editor types were bandying about ideas, one suggested looking to social media for contributors. Great idea, I thought, so I quickly posted on Facebook, figuring that responses would come flooding in from my 345 friends, a few of whom I actually know.

Well, I was disappointed on a couple of weather fronts: My terrific idea morphed into something different, more of a story on how people dealt with the sub-frigid conditions. Also, I received seven comments. Because my suggestion didn't come to pass, I offer this insight from one of my commenters who played the game correctly, Elida Witthoeft, a former DH staffer who succeeded me on the Wheeling beat, lo, these many years ago. Elida now is a producer at ESPN.

"I'd nominate the winter of 1978," she wrote. "Record snowfall and cold in Chicagoland (Mayor Bilandic lost his job). I was a junior at Northwestern; the university closed down for the first time in more than 100 years and we were stuck for what felt like months. I was walking down Sheridan Road with a snow shovel pitched over my shoulder and a stranger stopped me and offered me $50 for it."

Also worth mentioning is a photo submission from my sister. It came with no caption or comment, but really didn't need any. I present it with this column for your winter viewing delight -- fully realizing that by the time you read this, it likely will be a semi-distant memory as we will have forgotten about the cold for a while and be focusing instead on the latest worry: flooding.

Ah, the vagaries of winter in Chicago.

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