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Nothing like ’79

Tuesday’s storm a far cry from snows of winters past

Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 8:06 a.m. CST
(Herald Photo by Eric Lutz)
Morris resident Paul Hatcher shovels the sidewalk in front of property he owns on Liberty Street. As has been the case with the few other significant snowfalls the area has received this season, Tuesday’s snow was of the heavy, wet variety that makes shoveling difficult.

In the winter of 1979, Morris Police Chief Brent Dite went sledding off the roof of his house.

That winter, crisp in the minds of all who experienced it, saw snowfalls that averaged about 20 inches above normal in north-central Illinois as storm after storm washed the state in white.

At Dite’s childhood home in Morris, that meant snow-tunnels in the yard and sledding on the roof.

“It was a great time to be a kid,” Dite remembered.

Not only that. It was also a year that saw Morris break state weather records.

According to the National Climatic Data Center, the deepest recorded snow cover in the state of Illinois was recorded at Gebhard Woods State Park near Morris at 41 inches.

Snow depth, discerned by sticking a ruler into snow, is a measure of the amount of snow on the ground at any given time.

The 41 inches, recorded on Jan. 31, 1979, tied the previous state record — Astoria’s 41 inches in 1900 — and came during a series of memorably cold, snowy winters from the late ‘70s into the early ‘80s that make a mockery of our recent, less-than-white winters.

Tuesday’s snow, the most recent to spread over the Midwest in the twilight days of an otherwise dry winter, called to mind those pummeling storms of yore.

Depending on your outlook, it was either a postcard-scene of the somber season or an epic inconvenience.

If you were a kid, it probably meant a day spent on the sled hill rather than in the classroom.

If you were an adult, it likely meant a sluggish commute down a slush-slick street or a frustrating battle to keep an unrelenting snow from packing onto the driveway.

At least as of Tuesday afternoon, it had yet to result in any major accidents.

According to Grundy County Sheriff Kevin Callahan, there was an injury-free accident early Tuesday on Illinois 47, near Reed Road, but as of early afternoon, there were no other reports.

“I think [snow crews] are staying ahead of the snow,” Callahan said.

Chief Dite said his department had learned of only one accident as of Tuesday afternoon, a minor one that occurred in a parking lot in the late morning. He said drivers seemed to be taking precautions and that local clean-up crews were keeping up with the persistent weather.

“It appears so far motorists are driving carefully and responsibly,” Dite said. “Public works is out there doing a great job.”

Craig Cassem, highway engineer for Grundy County, said six crews worked all day Tuesday to keep the some-130 miles of county highways clear.

“It’s fairly wet,” Cassem said of the snow midway Tuesday afternoon. “Right now, it’s not drifting and we’re hoping it stays that way.”

Cassem said crews would continue to plow county highways through the night.

“It’s one of those things, we just have to stay with it,” he said.

By Tuesday afternoon, the area had accumulated upward of two inches of snow. It showed no sign of relenting during the evening commute and was expected to continue full-force through the night.

No word yet if 1979’s record is in jeopardy.

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