ASK TOM WHY: How cold was January, 1963?

Dear Tom,

How cold was January, 1963? My grandmother died that month and the ground was too frozen to dig graves.

Lillian Mack

Dear Lillian,

Much like this January, January, 1963 was brutally cold and very snowy. The month’s average temperature of 13.3 degrees was 10.5 degrees below normal and tied 1918 for the city’s sixth coldest January on record. The month opened mild with several days in the 30s and lower 40s, but a powerful arctic cold front arrived on the 10th dropping the mercury below freezing, a level never achieved the rest of the month. There were 15 below zero days including a six-day stretch from Jan. 20-25. The coldest day was Jan. 23 with a high of just minus 4 and a low of minus 18. Snowfall totaled 21.1 inches with the month’s biggest storm on the 19th when nearly 9 inches fell.

9 thoughts on “ASK TOM WHY: How cold was January, 1963?

  1. I wonder if they called off school due to cold on any of those days. It seems to me that’s a recent (and silly) trend. Growing up during that time, I don’t ever remember a school day canceled due solely to cold. I guess that’s not directly weather-related data, but it would be nice to know.

  2. you think it’s a silly trend to close schools when there’s dangerous windchills? so you’re in favor of having young children wait outside at the bus stop in dangerously cold weather? many families, especially in this economy, don’t have the money to buy their children ‘gear’ to survive subzero temperatures. I know my family didn’t invest in $75 In special winter clothing for my daughter that she’ll wear on 5x this winter. who is being silly now!

  3. Thanks bookworm cause you took the words out my mouth beside the gear too stay warm there’s people out here with breathing problems like asthma who can’t walk or breath brutal colder weather.

  4. We’ve definitely become more “concerned” over the last 20-or-so-years (not that it isn’t a bit warranted) about the ‘dangerous’ temperatures and the fate of our children at bus stops. I grew up in the city and walked to school everyday from 1966 to 1975. Something tells me there were quite a few “cold” days in that stretch. Then, after arriving at school, we played in the schoolyard until the bell rung and we formed in our single-file lines to enter the doors. I don’t remember the teachers even opening the doors for us; perhaps that’s because they knew we loved being outside. We all had hats, gloves, parkas, etc. I was outside longer than most kids are now. WAY longer. In fact, in the pre-computer age, I couldn’t wait to go to the park and play hockey on the frozen man-made pond they made every year. And yes, I froze my toes a bit and got chapped lips and all the rest, but it was life, and it was fun. I don’t remember really complaining, crying or being upset; nor do I remember my parents wringing their hands over their poor child being subjected to the brutality of Chicago cold. It just bothers me that so many of us over-protect our kids (and want to make sure everyone knows we do that…) while we all lose perspective, trying to shelter them from the world.

    • Did you walk to school uphill and barefoot in the snow, both ways? Get off my snow covered lawn you young whippersnapper, kids these days ….

      That’s what you sound like.

      • Just sayin’. “Uphill…both ways.” That expression was coined by some comedian years ago, it stuck and now is a knee-jerk response to any comment citing the past for perspective. Everything nowadays is like Armeggedon. It’s really unecessary. Yes, (here I go again. Damn.) Only impassable streets closed schools and a weather forecast of a few degrees below zero simply made you go to the store and stock up. It’s Chicago. It’s winter. We’ve been somehat fortunate for several years. The Jan.13, 1979 blizzard was an example. It was on a Saturday, but it took until Monday morning to discover the schools decided to close. It got brutally cold following the storm, then we got 6 more inched a couple days later. It was beginning to look like every winter was going to be crazy cold and snowy. Then came ’79-’80 with an El Nino and it seemed to rain and be in the 40′s all winter. We’re in the northern hemisphere in the center of a continent. We’re usually screwed. Get me to the west coast again!

  5. If you can’t somehow muster up a hat and a pair of gloves for your kid, you should either live somewhere else or just don’t send your kid to school on those days e.g. ‘call in sick’. It shouldn’t mean you have to force everyone else to stay home too.

    Here’s how they do it in Alaska – maybe we can relearn something from them we’ve apparently forgotten about here:

    “Fairbanks can get cold.

    During winter, the average low temperatures range from -15 °F to -25 °F, although it’s not uncommon for temperatures of -40 °F or even -50 °F. The record cold temperature in Fairbanks, according to the National Weather Service, is -61 °F.
    The school district will not close schools simply because of cold weather.

    Our school buildings are warm and safe and an ideal place for students to be when it is extremely cold outside.

    In rare instances, the superintendent may close schools for safety reasons due to a combination of cold weather, road conditions, and ice fog.

    Parents may, at their discretion, keep their child home during cold weather.”

  6. I was attending Niles West high school at the time and walked a good mile to and from school every day. I clearly recall that cold spell and was fascinated by it. It seemed like an adventure then. My mother, a farm girl from northern Wisconsin, also walked a mile with here brothers and sisters over snow covered fields to and from school. That was normal. I think people and the environment were healthier then.

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