Chicago remembers blizzard 1 year later

February 1, 2012 3:31:32 PM PST
At this time last year, residents in the Chicago area were preparing to hunker down for one of the worst blizzards on record.

One year later, some changes are in place to make sure what happened then does not happen now.

What a difference the last year has made. Chicagoans enjoyed unseasonably mild temperatures near 60 degrees Tuesday, a far different scene from a year ago when the city got socked with 24 inches of snow.

Jonathan Silber and his wife Zully Alvarado learned the hard way how to survive being trapped in a snow storm. They were among the hundreds of people stuck on Lake Shore Drive for hours.

"Whenever I drive along that stretch of Lake Shore Drive near Diversey, that sort of unease comes over me and I think back clearly to our circumstances when we were trapped in the snow for 12 hours," said Silber. "By midnight, you could not see the car in front of you. All you could see was a pile of snow that had been a car before."

For Zully, who moves around with a cane or wheelchair, abandoning the car and walking was not an option.

After being in the car for 12 hours and running out of gas fast, they spotted something in the storm.

"Out of the darkness, we saw a fireman walking toward us. I never felt - I admire and respected firemen before that - but I never felt such gratitude and joy to see him come out of the darkness and approach our car," said Silber.

The couple was rescued and taken to a hospital to wait the storm out.

Many area hospitals opened up their doors to stranded people that needed help. The staff at Saint Joseph Hospital, which is just off of Lake Shore Drive, knew what was happening right outside and made preparations.

"When we heard about it, we said we've got to open our doors, we're here. We contacted officials and the fire trucks just started pulling up in front of the hospital and letting people off, and they just kept coming," said Wendy Willson, director of surgical services at St Joseph Hospital.

Two hundred and fifty people took shelter at the hospital. Now, Willson, who was in charge that day, can say their plan worked. They would, though, make a minor adjustment if they had to do it again.

"I think we just would have more hot chocolate," said Willson.

As for Jonathan Silber and Zully Alvarado, they try to avoid Lake Shore Drive during storms, and always make sure the car is well stocked.

"We do have more things in the car," said Alvarado.

Historic images showing Lake Shore Drive littered with stranded cars were seen around the world last year.

David Bennet says it took him 14 hours to get from downtown to his North Side home.

"We got stuck at the North Avenue exit about 50 yards away from the exit, and everything stopped. We couldn't move anywhere," Bennett said.

Little Anna Conforti was born during the height of the storm and is now celebrating her first birthday. Her parents had a difficult time making it to the hospital.

"We tried to pull our car out of our driveway and could not get out. So, he's shoveling and shoveling, and about 45 mintues later, I had to call my sister who lives down the street," said mother Mandie Conforti.

Some things have changed since last February. Median breaks have been installed on Lake Shore Drive and can be removed in the event of a storm so that drivers do not get stranded. Also, the city of Chicago has a new website,, that gives real-time data on the progress of city snow plows.

The city and related agencies spent more than $37 million on snow removal and other weather-related services during last year's blizzard, far more than they have had to spend so far this winter.