Bison at Brookfield Zoo didn't mind the heavy snow at all as it whipped the area on Sunday, Feb.1, but the zoo itself closed %u2014 for the 5th time in its 81-year history. (Jim Schulz/CZS)

What was initially advertised as a moderately heavy snowfall on Super Bowl Sunday ended as the fifth-heaviest blizzard the Chicago area has ever seen, dumping close to 20 inches of snow on the area throughout Feb. 1.

By 7:30 a.m. on Monday, the National Weather Service announced that Chicago’s official snowfall total was 19.3 inches at O’Hare Airport (19.2 at Midway), though wind gusts topping 40 mph helped blow the lake-effect powder into drifts 3 feet high in places.

“I was impressed with how the storm grew,” said Riverside Public Works Director Edward Bailey. “We got our money’s worth with this one.”

The blizzard dumped so much snow, so relentlessly on the area on Sunday that Brookfield Zoo closed its gates for just the fifth time in its 81-year history. Sondra Katzen, the zoo’s media relations manager, said zoo officials took several factors into account in deciding to close, including the driving conditions and the fact that there was a skeleton crew working, which meant many animals were off exhibit.

As the skies cleared Monday morning, however, the zoo was back open for business. But even though many schools cancelled classes Monday, they weren’t flocking to the zoo. Many zoo employees also chose to work from home.

“It’s pretty sparse here today,” Katzen said on Monday just before noon.

Many school districts in the area closed Monday, including Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95, LaGrange-Brookfield District 102, Lyons-Brookfield District 103 and Lyons Township High School.

Komarek School District 94 remained open Monday as did Riverside District 96 and Riverside-Brookfield High School, which had late starts. All of those schools, however, saw significant student absences as parents kept their children home.

The Landmark is attempting to get the official figures for absences at the schools choosing to open on Monday.

Meanwhile, snow-removal crews in Riverside, North Riverside and Brookfield started operations late Saturday, Jan. 31 and were in full swing by early Sunday. Brookfield Public Works Director Dan Kaup said one eight-person removal crew and the village’s five plows worked from Saturday night until about 7 a.m. Sunday, when a second crew took over.

“Right now we’re on 12-hour shifts,” said Kaup on Monday morning. “The challenge is the amount of snow.”

By Monday morning, snow-removal crews in Brookfield had cleared the village’s main streets, secondary streets and public areas, such as the commuter parking lots. On Monday, trucks started hitting residential side streets. Kaup said the goal was also to have plows make one pass through all alleys by Monday evening.

In Riverside, plowing started in earnest about 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, and the five-man crew worked a 16-hour shift before taking a break and coming back about 4 a.m. Monday to make another pass.

“While we may have plowed parking lots and streets, a lot of the snow drifted,” Bailey said. “There was no way to keep up with it.”

But by Monday, Bailey said his crew was catching up.

“We should have all the streets completely plowed today,” Bailey said on Monday morning.

In North Riverside, Public Works Director Tim Kutt had a two-man crew in late on Saturday to spread a layer of salt before calling in the rest of the 10-person crew for snow removal around 1 a.m. on Sunday. The team worked until evening before getting some sleep and returning about 3:30 a.m. to resume plowing.

But mid-morning on Monday, main roads in North Riverside were clear, all of the residential streets were plowed and all alleys had been plowed. In all, said Kutt, his trucks had made more than seven passes through the village.

Kutt noted that with up to 3 more inches of snow predicted for the week, he will be hiring a private hauling firm to remove snow that has collected in some alleys.

“We’re a small department,” said Kutt. “You really have to juggle things.” 

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