Year
1999

Great Lakes region digs out from record blizzard

After three days of high winds and heavy snow, people in the Great Lakes region begin digging out from one of the worst blizzards on record on this day in 1999. More than 100 people died in storm-related accidents.

The storm began on January 1, when snow began falling across Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. Most areas saw at least 15 inches of snow before the storm moved on. The hardest hit area was Chicago, where wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour combined with heavy snow to reduce visibility to near zero at times and create huge impassable drifts. O’Hare Airport, one the nation’s busiest, had to shut down, stranding 200,000 people for as much as four days. The weather also made train travel through the area impossible, and mail across the country was delayed because of the blizzard.

The storm caused treacherous road conditions throughout the region. A 60-car pile-up on January 2 in Wisconsin resulted in scores of injuries and one death. In Indiana, a 100-mile stretch of Interstate 65 was closed for a full two days. When the snow finally stopped on January 3, record cold temperatures arrived. In Congerville, Illinois, a state record low of -36 degrees was reached. In the aftermath, President Bill Clinton declared Illinois and Indiana disaster areas and sent federal relief.

As the storm moved east, serious accidents followed in its wake. A 15-car pile-up on I-81 in Virginia killed four people and a 50-car accident in New Jersey injured dozens. There were 200 separate accidents on the New York Thruway alone during the blizzard. When the storm reached Buffalo, it began a two-week period during which the city received a remarkable 60 inches of snow. Still, Buffalo was prepared and able to plow the snow to make streets passable. In Detroit, a shortage of snow plows combined with the subsequent cold weather left some streets blocked for more than a week.

In all, more than 100 deaths–as many as 36 from heart attacks–were attributed to the terrible blizzard of January 1999.

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