Recap of the Super Bowl Snowstorm: January 31 – February 2, 2015

From Below Average to Above Average in One Storm

Until the historic snowstorm of 2015, Chicagoland was experiencing a below average winter. For only the third time on record there was no measurable snowfall in December. Below average snowfall continued through most of January, but it took just one event to bring snowfall totals back to normal. The snowstorm on Super Bowl weekend dropped 19.3” of snow, more than doubling the season total. As of February 5, O’Hare Airport has received 36.7” of snow, exactly the average seasonal snowfall for Chicago.

Snow Totals for 2014/2015 Season

Location* Before Jan. 31 Snowstorm 2015 Season Total Feb. 4

Average Season Snowfall

Chicago

15.5” 19.3” 36.7” 36.7”
Naperville 13.95” 16” 31.65”

*Chicago snowfall amounts were recorded at O’Hare Airport, Chicago’s official measurement station. Naperville measurements were recorded at Naperville Snow Command. From February 3 to 4, Chicago and Naperville received an additional 1.9” and 1.7”, respectively.

Records: (for O’Hare Airport)

  • 19.3” snowfall – fifth largest snowfall event of all time
  • 16.2” on February 1
    • Most for any day in February
    • Fourth highest single-day total of all time
  • 0.87” – Most liquid-equivalent precipitation in a single day
  • Eighth snowiest week in history – 21.3” from January 29 to February 4
  • Currently 10th snowiest February on record (as of February 4, 2015)

What Caused the Storm?

A strong low-pressure system developed in the plains states and tracked toward Chicago. On its way to Chicago, the system pulled significant moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico. This moisture wrapped into the system where it encountered cold Arctic air falling in place from the north.

How the Storm Evolved

Like so many storms this year, it was originally predicted to dive south of the Chicago region. The evolution of forecasts during the week showed forecasters were very uncertain about totals from the storm. Each day, higher amounts were predicted. While the City was prepared for a large plowing event, snow totals would end up exceeding even the Saturday night forecast totals.

The Evolution of Forecasted Snow Totals

Forecast Date January 28 January 29 January 30 January 31

Observed

Inches Predicted

1-3″ 2-4″ 3-10″ 6-14″

16″

A Winter Storm Warning was placed in effect for the area from Saturday night until early Monday morning. Precipitation began falling in the Naperville area around 9 p.m. on Saturday. Public works crews began treating and plowing the streets immediately. By daybreak on Sunday, several inches had already fallen and cul-de-sac plowing was started. Snow became lighter and fluffier on Sunday afternoon. A Blizzard Warning was issued through midnight on Sunday. Winds gusted to more than 35 MPH causing drifting in the roadways. Snowfall ceased in the early hours of Monday morning. Chicago received more lake-effect snow at the tail end of the storm due to their proximity to Lake Michigan. The result was the fifth largest snowfall event in Chicago history:

top10_chisnow

top5storms_chicago

The City of Naperville Response:

The blizzard required the use of 45 Department of Public Works (DPW) equipment operators, 10 supervisory staff, 15 temporary plow drivers and approximately 60 contracted units. In addition, Fleet Services provided 24-hour coverage to ensure all equipment was quickly repaired and put back into service. Public Building personnel provided snow removal services at City buildings.

DPW equipment operators load salt into the back of a plow truck.

DPW equipment operators load salt into the back of a plow truck.

The first DPW team began plowing and salting operations at 9 p.m. on Saturday, January 31 just as the snow started to fall. The two DPW teams, each consisting of 22 drivers, worked rotating 12-hour shifts non-stop until Wednesday, January 4. For much of the storm, the focus was on keeping arterial and priority one streets passable. Additional City employees from other departments were called in to assist on plowing the residential (priority two) streets. All arterial, priority one and residential streets were plowed to the curb and salted by 6 p.m. on Monday, January 2.

Multiple trucks work together to quickly plow a major arterial in the early morning hours.

Multiple trucks work together to quickly plow a major arterial in the early morning hours.

The plowing of cul-de-sacs by contractors began at 5 a.m. on Sunday, January 1. In a typical storm, cul-de-sacs are not started until after snowfall stops so that only one pass is required in each of the 1,195 cul-de-sacs. Waiting until after the storm to plow would have rendered pick-up truck plows ineffective due to the high snow totals. Since the majority of contractors utilize pick-up plows and not heavy machinery, a delayed start would have severely hampered snow removal efforts. Even so, cul-de-sac plowing took longer than a typical event. The cul-de-sacs are split into groupings of about 20 and divided up among roughly 60 contractors. In a typical event, all cul-de-sacs will be plowed once and it will take about 8-12 hours. During this storm, cul-de-sacs were plowed twice and each round took longer than normal. All cul-de-sacs were plowed once during the event on Sunday, January 1 and then received a final clearing on Monday, January 2. Cul-de-sac plowing was completed by 11 p.m. on Monday, January 2.

After the storm, front end loaders and semi-trucks are used to remove the snow from downtown overnight.

After the storm, front end loaders and semi-trucks are used to remove the snow from downtown overnight.

Snow was removed from the downtown and the train stations for three nights following the storm. Approximately 2,000 tons of salt was used the week of the event. More than 12,000 tons remains stored in the salt domes.

Estimated Cost:

In-house labor

$195,000

Temporary employee

$25,000

Contractor

$220,000

Salt and calcium chloride

$95,000

Total Cost:

$535,000

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