Lonely commuters struggled against 4-foot-deep snow drifts Wednesday in streets left eerily silent by a historic blizzard that barreled into Chicago a day earlier and nearly paralyzed the snow-tough city.
The storm — which buried Chicago in almost 2 feet of snow — stranded hundreds of drivers overnight on the city’s showcase lakeshore thoroughfare, halted air traffic and gave many schoolchildren their first ever snow day. Nearly all of the commuter train lines in and around the city were shut down by Wednesday evening, which a Metra spokeswoman called “unprecedented.”
“This is probably the most snow I’ve seen in the last 34 years,” joked 34-year-old Michael George of Chicago. “I saw some people cross-country skiing on my way to the train. It was pretty wild.”
Across Illinois, matters weren’t much better. Tens of thousands of utility customers were without power, and access was restricted to several interstates to allow crews to help stranded motorists and clear snow. Authorities were investigating whether the storm contributed to at least four deaths.
In Chicago, residents awoke to official word that the storm forecasted to be among the worst in decades had lived up to expectations: It registered as the third most severe in city history with 20.2 inches of snow at O’Hare International Airport.
Five of Metra’s 11 commuter train lines were shut down all day and three more closed by Wednesday evening, in part because of snow-clogged tracks, spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said.