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The St. Louis blizzard of 1982: We didn't see it coming

The St. Louis blizzard of 1982: We didn't see it coming

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Monster 1982 snowfall
Snowplows slowly fought their way through the streets and roads of the metro area, but there was just too much snow -- and too many abandoned vehicles -- to clear much of a path. This scene is of the 3300 block of Delmar Boulevard in the city, looking east, on Feb. 1, 1982. (Ted Dargan/Post-Dispatch)

ST. LOUIS • Heavy rain swelled the creeks on Jan. 30, 1982, then the rain turned to snow. With only 4 inches of snow forecast, the worry was flooding. Lightning illuminated the snowfall as most people went to bed that Saturday night.

They awoke next morning to a winter wonderland unseen here in 70 years. Lambert Field recorded 13.9 inches of snow, but the airport was on the low slope of the storm's worst.

Follow-up National Weather Service reports put the totals for most of the city, southwest St. Louis County and Jefferson County at 18 inches or more. Madison County had 17 inches, St. Clair County 15. The Greenville, Ill., area was buried under 2 feet. Fifty miles to the north and south of the Gateway Arch, accumulations were light.

The Jan. 30-31 storm was the third-heaviest snowfall ever recorded here, beaten only by 20.4 inches on March 30-31, 1890, and 15.5 inches on Feb. 20, 1912.

Hundreds of motorists abandoned vehicles on highways and streets. Buses and heavy trucks got stuck in traffic lanes. Police nabbed a burglar by following his footsteps. At 9 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 31, Edwardsville firefighters David Carnaghi and Capt. Dennis Henson helped to deliver Sharon Miller's 9-pound son in the back of their ambulance, stuck on Interstate 55.

"The baby is fine. Those guys were just great," said Miller, eventually safe and warm in a hospital.

Snowplows worked nearly round the clock, but there was too much snow to push away. It would take most of a week, at heavy cost to public budgets, to clear the main roads.

Photos: A look back at the blizzard of 1982

The action heroes were civilian owners of four-wheel-drive vehicles, who became the locomotion for police departments, medical services and repair crews. They delivered medicine to the sick and milk to babies, and doctors and nurses to hospitals.

Jackie Taylor of Ballwin walked to her job at a pizza parlor. She made 30 pizzas that Ballwin firefighters delivered to a nursing home, where none of the staff showed up.

Amtrak and Greyhound stopped running. Lambert cleared its runways, but few passengers could get to their flights. Bi-State canceled most bus routes for two days. Public officials urged workers to stay home - an easy call to honor, given the state of most driveways. The Missouri National Guard cleared downtown's main streets with front-end loaders and dump trucks.

Five days into the big dig, an exasperated Mayor Vincent C. Schoemehl Jr. said, "The city has 454,000 residents, and that means the city has 454,000 civil engineers."

At least 16 people died, most of them stricken while shoveling snow. Most schools didn't even try to reopen until Monday, Feb. 8.

Read more stories from Tim O'Neil's Look Back series. 

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