Things weren’t exactly back to normal – some schools remained out of session and commuter trains were running on a somewhat abbreviated schedule – but by the evening of Feb. 3 Brookfield, Riverside and North Riverside were clearly in recovery mode, following the third-largest snowfall in Chicago history.
Shoppers flocked to North Riverside Park Mall, with school kids taking advantage of a second straight snow day. Just a day before, the mall was a ghost town, closed down in the wake of the severe blizzard.
Some 20.9 inches of snow -accompanied by sporadic lightning and thunder – fell at Midway Airport Feb. 1-2, with high winds forming drifts that reached 5 feet in places.
The mall, which closed at 6 p.m. on Feb. 1, had planned to open at noon on Feb. 2, but an e-mail was circulated to store owners at 8 a.m. that morning, telling them to stay home.
Meanwhile, the mall’s grounds staff worked all night and day to clear the enormous parking lots surrounding the mall, leaving huge snow piles at the periphery.
“There are only a couple of days a year where we’re at 100-percent capacity,” said Lidia Darkova, the mall’s marketing manager, referring to empty parking spaces that allow snow to be piled. “Hopefully nature will take its course and the snow will melt.”
But by Thursday at 10 a.m. the mall was open and shoppers were streaming through the doors.
“Every single vendor is here today,” Darkova said Thursday. “It’s very busy right now.”
Brookfield Zoo was back open to visitors after being shut down on Feb. 2 for just the second time in the institution’s 76-year history. A skeleton crew of animal care workers and maintenance staff stayed overnight Feb. 1, but the zoo closed its doors.
The Feb. 2 Groundhog Day event was held a day early, according to spokeswoman Sondra Katzen, in anticipation of the storm. For the record, the zoo’s groundhog, Tumbleweed, did not see his shadow.
“So spring is right around the corner,” Katzen said, “if you can believe it.”
Eddie Gudino couldn’t believe it. At 4 p.m. on Feb. 2, he and his friend, Erick Hayes, had been shoveling snow for three hours on the walkway to the back entrance to The Sanctuary, a bar in downtown Brookfield.
Winds swirled snow into drifts topping 6 feet inside the confined area near the back door. It was only after lashing a folding table to a dolly, piling snow on top and carting it out to the street did work get moving.
“This was supposed to be my day off,” Gudino said. “At 12:30, I got a call saying [the owner] wanted me to shovel the snow.”
Hayes, who went to his job at Jimmy John’s in Hillside only to find it closed, decided to help out Gudino in Brookfield.
Over in Riverside, Public Works Director Edward Bailey headed over to the Mobil station on Harlem Avenue in Berwyn at about 2 p.m. to grab a Coke. It had been about 24 hours since the snowplow drivers reported to work, and they had been going almost non-stop through the night and into Thursday. By mid-afternoon, Riverside’s streets were clear and efforts to clear snow from the sidewalks of the central business district had already begun.
Then again, 20 inches of snow is no big deal to Bailey, who is from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
“This is routine,” Bailey said.
The main difference between the U.P. and Riverside is the size of the snow removal equipment.
“I think we’re doing a good job with what we have,” Bailey said. “With the size of our equipment, we’re not built to handle this kind of storm.”
Bailey’s girlfriend, apparently, doesn’t like 20 inches of snow, even if it is routine.
“She told me, ‘This is what I moved 400 miles to get away from,'” Bailey said.
On the 3500 block of Forest Avenues in Brookfield, neighbors woke up on the morning of Feb. 2, grabbed their shovels and snowblowers and began digging out.
“It was wonderful,” said Cheryl Milan, who lives on the street. “Everybody was going house to house, helping with cars and helping elderly people who couldn’t even get out their doors. It was actually a really good atmosphere. People were trying to make the best of it.”
Helping matters was The Snowman. That’s what neighbors call Daryl White, who lives on the 3600 block of Forest. After snowfalls, White dons a snowsuit, hops on his ATV and plows the sidewalks on both sides of Forest Avenue from Washington to Brookfield Avenue.
“I’m just trying to help out my neighbors,” said White.
It pays off, too.
“I get cookies in my front door all the time,” he said.
Milan is one of the grateful contributors.
“He’s wonderful,” she said of White’s plowing prowess. “He’s just a man on a mission in a big snowsuit.”
Local police, meanwhile, spent most of their time on Feb. 1 and 2 responding to calls from stranded motorists. For the 24-hour period from noon on Feb. 1 to noon Feb. 2, Riverside police responded to just four criminal complaints. They got 89 weather-related calls, said Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, including 26 for cars either stuck or abandoned on village streets.
Since the village’s towing vendor was inundated, many times the solution was for the department’s SUV to push cars out of the snow.
“We also got a lot of complaints of people snowblowing snow onto neighbors’ driveways,” Weitzel said. “There were several neighbor disputes over snow.”
Brookfield Police Lt. Edward Petrak had similar news.
“It was mostly pushing cars out of the snow,” Petrak said. One car abandoned at Sunnyside and Burlington stayed there for hours until three or four people with snowblowers finally were able to dig it out, Petrak said.
Police in one instance helped a disabled resident get groceries out of the car and into her house.
“There was a handicapped resident who called, concerned about the groceries she had to abandon in her car the day before because of the snowstorm,” Petrak said. “We went over to her residence, got the keys, worked our way through the snow drifts around her car and gathered up the groceries for her.”
Of course, it wasn’t all snowmen and rosy cheeks.
Apart from scattered instances of neighbors calling the police on each other for snow-removal indiscretions, power outages were sporadic in Riverside and North Riverside. All of the problems had been resolved by Thursday, a spokeswoman from ComEd said.
Commuters on the Burlington Northern line didn’t see regular train service until Friday. And residents with ongoing medical needs had a tough time getting the care they needed.
Brookfield resident Mickie Phillips said her husband wasn’t able to get his regular dialysis treatment (originally schedule for early morning on Feb. 2) until Thursday afternoon. While she said she understood the severity of the storm and the pressures on public works crews, she said the village should compile a list of residents with critical health needs to make sure they get attention quickly.
“My husband went without dialysis from Monday to Thursday,” Phillips said. “That’s definitely not a good thing.”
At the British Home in Brookfield, administrator Julie Adduci solved that problem by keeping more than 50 staffers overnight Feb. 1-2 to help care for the 200-plus residents of the retirement community.
“The British Home has a history of power outages during storms,” said Adduci, who was relieved when power flickered but never completely cut out during the blizzard.
“Employees set up makeshift sleeping areas – on tables in the physical therapy rooms and in offices. Nurses slept in shifts.”
As Wednesday wore on, overnighters whose cars were still stuck in the parking lot were driven home and a new shift driven in by an employee with a truck.
“We were back on our usual shifting as of Thursday,” Adduci said.