In a city known for its ever-changing weather, Tom Skilling offers stability, Chicago.
Later this year, the beloved WGN-TV chief meteorologist will celebrate his 45th anniversary at the station.
Forecasting has always been Skilling’s specialty — no matter the medium. The Tribune called him the “Accurate Auroran” in 1968, when the then-high school sophomore produced three daily segments on his local radio station WKKD. Today, he’s even more prolific on Facebook where he shares readers’ photos and highlights unique climate conditions around the world in addition to keeping us here informed of what we can expect outside in the days ahead.
And since this winter has been a little weird — much warmer and with less snow than usual — I reached out to Skilling to provide some context. He clearly recalls some of the most brutally frigid and blizzard-like conditions Chicago has ever endured. Eight of the coldest temperatures and seven of the largest snowfalls ever recorded here happened in January. Tomorrow marks the 38th anniversary of the coldest temperature ever recorded in Chicago, -27 degrees.
He cautions that we should be prepared for potentially severe weather despite the more than 20 consecutive days of higher than normal temperatures we’re currently experiencing.
“In fact, we’ve got a pattern change coming later next week that will bring colder air and now,” Skilling told me yesterday. “At this point, it doesn’t look like it will be of the same intensity of December’s cold outbreak. But we’ve got to watch that.”
We know he will. 🙂
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Thanks for reading!
— Kori Rumore, visual reporter
Snow, ice, frozen train tracks — it’s nothing new for residents of the Windy City. See more photos.
Chicago’s favorite meteorologist (yes, I said it) explains why we’ve had almost no snow this winter — and remembers the time he had to push his car into a garage behind WGN to warm it up during one brutally cold winter:
“They used to do Bert Weinman Ford commercials in that garage so they had a big turntable that they put the cars on as the announcer told you about the latest deal. Well, that’s the same garage into which we pushed my car and after a couple of hours, I could finally get it going again. But, oh, it was just awful!
The atmosphere took on a very almost unworldly state at that point,” Skilling told the Tribune. Read more.
- Ask Tom: When was the last January with so little snowfall?
- Ask Tom: Has it ever not snowed in January, February or March?
- Ask Tom: What’s the warmest temperature recorded in January?
- Ask Tom: What’s the biggest consecutive-day temperature fluctuation?
- Ask Tom: What is January Thaw?
The city experienced a day of frostbite, fuming motorists and freezing homes on Jan. 20, 1985. Read more.
The temperature was recorded likely before 7:15 a.m. on Jan. 31, 2019, at the observation station in Mount Carroll, which sits west of Chicago in the state’s northwest pocket. Read more.
“It’s colder than a well-digger’s butt in the Klondike,” said John Carroll, owner of the lone gas station in Congerville, where residents were streaming in to get microwaved sandwiches and jaw about the weather on Jan. 5, 1999. “I mean it’s cold outside. Very cold.” Read more.
Snow began falling at 5:02 a.m. on Jan. 26, 1967, and didn’t stop until a record-breaking 23 inches had accumulated the next day, according to the National Weather Service, making it the worst snowstorm recorded in Chicago history.
Mayor Richard M. Daley asked for patience as the city employed 700 pieces of heavy equipment and more than 1,400 workers on 12-hour shifts to clear the snow, which blanketed much of the upper Midwest in snow or ice from Jan. 1-3, 1999. President Bill Clinton declared a snow emergency in 34 Illinois counties, including Cook County. The bill for snow-removal efforts in the first few days of the storm was an estimated $31.5 million. Read more.
- Ask Tom: Everyone remembers the Big Snow of 1967 and the Blizzard of 1979 but none of my friends remembers the January 1999 snowstorm.
- Ask Tom: Why were there ice piles along the Lake Michigan shoreline after the 1999 snowstorm?
The “Groundhog Day blizzard” wasn’t the city’s biggest blast of snow. Generations of kids were brought up on stories of the towering mounds of snow in the 1967 blizzard, which inspired author George R.R. Martin’s iconic ice wall in “Game of Thrones” and the 1979 blizzard that swung a mayoral election, among others.
But on Jan. 31, 2011, a rare meteorological mix of constant snowfall, freezing high winds and highly charged lightning brought on “Snowmageddon,” a blizzard that turned picturesque Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive into an arctic parking lot. Read more.
- Ask Tom: Did the 1967 Big Snow or the 2011 Groundhog Day blizzard have higher winds?
The 20.3 inches of snow that fell on Chicago from Jan. 12-14, 1979, was the worst storm of a winter in which almost 90 inches of snow — the all-time season record — fell on the city and was also remembered as the second-coldest in Chicago’s recorded history.
After observing the city by helicopter, Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic ordered city snowplows to clear 250 school and Park District parking lots so residents could move their cars off the roads, but that effort was a failure. Many motorists couldn’t make it past double- and triple-parked cars on the still unplowed side streets. Garbage couldn’t be collected for at least 10 days. Mail was delivered late.
Instead of taking responsibility for the mishandling of the snow removal, Bilandic lashed out saying police would be ticketing vehicles and ordering them towed if not removed from Chicago’s streets. He also said there would be “no exceptions” for sick, elderly or poor people who couldn’t move their cars. “If there are hardship cases, they can tell that to a judge. That’s what a judge is for,” he told reporters. Bilandic later apologized for his mishandling of the snow removal, but Chicago residents — voters — weren’t satisfied. They elected Jane Byrne. Read more.
- Ask Tom: What caused large snowflakes in 1979 blizzard?
- Ask Tom: I remember the Blizzard of ‘79 that brought more than 20 inches of snow to Chicago and northwest Indiana. Why do people in Knox, Ind., call it the Blizzard of ‘78?
Exactly four years after the 2011 snowstorm, Chicago experienced another blizzard — this one during Super Bowl weekend.