Chicago's worst February snowstorms

Don't let your winter guard down just yet. February has featured some nasty snowstorms in the past. January's snowstorms make up half the top 10 list of worst snowstorms in Chicago, but February holds two spots on the list. Both of those February storms rank in the top five.

February averages 10.7 inches of snow, making it the second-snowiest month of the year behind January. So far this February, we have picked up only a trace of snow. It could be a lot worse.

Let's look back at three of Chicago's worst February snowstorms.

1. Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2011: The Groundhog Day Blizzard

The Groundhog Day blizzard of 2011 hit the Chicago area hard. We weren't the only ones impacted by the storm. At one point, nearly 30 states had some type of winter weather advisory in effect because of this storm. It ranks third on the worst snowstorms list behind the Jan. 26-27 blizzard that dumped 23 inches on Chicago and the storm that struck Jan. 1-3, 1999, producing 21.6" of snow. Over the course of three days, the Groundhog Day blizzard produced 21.2 inches of snow. The storm totals were enhanced by lake-effect snow.

Here are some of the impressive snowfall totals from the storm:

  • 24.2 inches Beach Park
  • 23.7 inches Elk Grove Village
  • 23.4 inches Spring Grove
  • 22.9 inches Highland, Ind.
  • 21.7 inches Midway

The storm produced wind gusts over 60 mph, some of the strongest associated with any winter storm here. It also produced the highest 24-hour snowfall on record for Chicago, with 20.0 inches falling from the afternoon of February 1st through the morning of February 2nd. It also made a mark in the record books as the 2nd highest February calendar snowfall on record, with 13.6 inches falling on Feb. 1.

Plows on Lake Shore drive during the Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011

The combination of strong winds and heavy snow caused a back-up on Lake Shore Drive. Drivers were stranded for miles and had to be rescued by emergency responders. Over 500 cars were abandoned after their passengers were stuck for several hours awaiting help. 

There were seven deaths attributed to the storm in Chicago, with 36 deaths reported nationwide. 

2. Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2015: The Superbowl Blizzard

The "Superbowl Blizzard" of 2015 squeezed out 19.3" of snow, ranking it #5 on the worst Chicago snowstorms list. It produced 16.2 inches recorded on February 1st, the most ever for any February day in Chicago. It was also the 4th snowiest day on record in any month for our city. O'Hare reported 33 consecutive hourly observations of snow. 

Here are some of the highest snowfall numbers from the storm:

22.0" Lincolnshire

21.5" Oak Lawn

20.8" Elmhurst

20.0" Rogers Park

19.7" Lincolnwood

Romeoville's National Weather Service Office buried in over 15" of snow.

The storm's intense, deepening area of low-pressure produced a period of near-blizzard conditions when winds gusted over 35 mph, reducing visibilities to around ¼ mile or less in many areas.

3. February 1-3, 2022: Another Groundhog Day Storm

This storm is one of the biggest in more recent memory, having hit just two years ago. This was the second Groundhog Day in Chicago, marked by heavy snowfall. It was the largest snowfall total for an event (to that point) for the winter of 2021-2022. O'Hare saw 5.6" of snow. Just three miles away at Midway Airport, 11" of snow came down. There was a sharp gradient of snow across northern Illinois and Indiana, with the highest amounts near and south of the city. Over a foot of snow fell in some southern suburbs and in far northwest Indiana. Timing is everything with snow storms, and the timing stunk for morning commuters. Snow fell at the rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour, messing up the morning commute.

Some eye-popping totals from the storm:

  • 13.8" Chicago Heights
  • 13.0" Kankakee
  • 12.5" Lansing
  • 11.2" Burr Ridge
  • 11.0" Bridgeview

Here is the list of the top ten worst snowstorms on record for Chicago:

  1. 23.0 inches on January 26-27, 1967
  2. 21.6 inches on January 1-3, 1999
  3. 21.2 inches on January 31-February 2, 2011
  4. 20.3 inches on January 12-14, 1979
  5. 19.3 inches on January 31-February 2, 2015 
  6. 19.2 inches on March 25-26, 1930
  7. 16.2 inches on March 7-8, 1931
  8. 14.9 inches on January 30, 1939
  9. 14.9 inches on January 6-7, 1918
  10. 14.8 inches on December 17-19, 1929

A little light snow will fall on Friday, but certainly not enough to make this list. Just because meteorological spring starts in a couple of weeks doesn't mean we are out of the woods for snow. Remember that March averages 5.5 inches of the white stuff. Notice the top 10 list has two March storms on it. The most snow ever for the month of March was 23.1 inches back in 1926.