snowmageddon

From the Chicago blizzard, on Lake Shore Drive and beyond…

After trying to drive around the city and getting nowhere (3.3 miles in one hour in the afternoon rush), I retreated closer to the home near the lake to work the storm as the blizzard rolled in.  Knowing that Lake Shore Drive was having serious backups, I got to the North Avenue pedestrian bridge and saw the northbound lanes nearly completely stopped, while the southbound was nearly deserted. From the top of the bridge, I realized the wind was actually strong enough to blow me into traffic.

I heard from the assignment desk that the traffic was coming from a bus accident near Belmont, right near my home where I was able to make my way back through Lincoln Park. I walked out to LSD and found it completely deserted. Standing in the middle of an eight-lane highway was surreal, and got even more so when I saw a few people appearing in the distance, walking north into the wind. They were so cold they were barely able to talk, but they told me they were coming from stranded buses further south.

After filing those photos to the Tribune from home, I heard from my editors that there were still many people stranded south of Belmont near Diversey. I decided to see if I could make it out there, taking cash for a cab (pointless) and headed on foot down Sheridan Rd. The wind was so strong, funneling between the tall buildings, that pieces of debris and road signs were blowing down the sidewalks into the big drifts. I eventually made my way across the park again and climbed onto Lake Shore Drive around 10 pm. In the limited visibility, I could see a few firefighters and snowmobiles and some tow trucks working on the dozens of cars. The firefighters were surprised I was there, asking where I had come from and trying to figure out exactly where they were. Then they asked me to take their picture.

I met some stranded motorists, each getting out of their cars every so often to clear snow off their windshield again. The wind apparently reached 70 mph. I felt like I could easily be blown right down the street if I didn’t stop to brace myself. I heard other people say the snow felt like being sandblasted in the face. When the gusts picked up, it was impossible to see anything.

There were CTA buses still filled with commuters, who had been there since the late afternoon. People had clearly gotten to know each other and many of the people in the cars around them. They assisted each other with water and snacks. The firefighters and many CTA officials were aware of everyone who had medical needs. The condensation on the camera lens was a big challenge as I got on and off the humid buses, but everyone was unusually accommodating.

Soon after I arrived, the CTA was able to bring a rescue bus in the southbound lanes and they helped everyone across the median to cram onboard.

The rescue bus was led by a snowplow and took us to the intersection of Clark and Fullerton, and when we arrived the man at the steering wheel remarked, “And I’m not even a bus driver!” (He turned out to be another CTA employee who volunteered for the unusual duty).  People were annoyed at the delay, but still in mostly good spirits. The woman pressed in the front of the bus wiped condensation off the windshield for the bus driver, and a couple of passengers jokingly pulled the bus stop request level along the way. I know already it will be one of my favorite Chicago memories.

(Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

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