Before he was commissioner of the city's Department of Streets and Sanitation, Charles Williams was nearly trampled by a snow plow.
Williams was 16 when a record-setting blizzard struck Chicago in January 1967. Like many teenagers at the time, he took advantage of school closures and reveled in the snow.
"I was standing on a huge snow mound. A plow came down the street and I didn't back up enough ... it almost took me out with it," he said.
The blizzard, which hit 50 years ago, effectively took out the city, too.
Thousands of people were stranded in offices, schools and buses. About 50,000 vehicles and 800 Chicago Transit Authority buses were abandoned on the streets and expressways and buried underneath 23 inches of snow.
According to Tribune stories at the time, expectant mothers were taken to hospitals by sled, bulldozer and snow plow. At least a dozen babies were born at home.
As a result of the infamous Blizzard of '67, 26 people died, including a 10-year-old girl who was accidentally caught in the crossfire between police and looters and a minister who was run over by a snowplow. Several died of heart attacks from shoveling snow.
The snowstorm caused the biggest disruption to the commerce and transportation of Chicago by any event since the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, according to the National Weather Service.
For adults, it was a nightmare. Businesses were closed. Public transportation was shut down. Cars were abandoned in the streets. The storm struck on a Thursday, and by Sunday, at least 237 people were arrested for looting stores and stranded vehicles.
But for children, the blizzard created a holiday. Most schools didn't reopen until Tuesday.
"As a 15-year-old, it was great," said Larry Moreland. "We didn't have to go to school, so we built a big snow fort in the backyard."
Moreland, 64, lived in a three-story apartment building near Division Street and Damen Avenue before moving to Kentucky, where he currently lives.
"I remember jumping off of the porch from the second floor and just disappearing," Moreland said. "But the kid that lived on the second floor, Jerry -- we sort of had to dig him out. He was smaller than I was. He went under, and there was no trace of him."
His father, William Moreland, was a CTA bus driver at the time, assigned to the Division Street route.
"He had just picked up a dozen passengers near Austin and only got a few blocks from there," Larry Moreland recalled. "The snow plows couldn't keep up with the snow, and cars and trucks were getting stuck on the street. It became impassable."
William Moreland was trapped on the bus with a half dozen passengers. There were no cellphones at the time, so he used the pay phone at a nearby tavern to call the CTA, his son said.
"They told him he had to stay with the bus to make sure no one would steal the bus," Moreland recalled. "He says, 'No one could go anywhere with it. Snow plows couldn't even get through.'"
CTA spokeswoman Irene Ferradaz said that under current policy, drivers would curb the bus, transfer customers to another bus and call for help. They are generally instructed to remain with the bus, but sometimes drivers may be told to seek shelter.
But in 1967, Moreland said, the CTA offered to pay his father double time to stay with his bus. With nowhere to go, William Moreland and his passengers spent two full days stranded at the nearby tavern.
"The good news is he got paid for 48 hours, so he got the biggest paycheck he ever had," Larry Moreland said.
Paco Fernandez, then 13, had lived in the United States for a month when the 1967 blizzard hit.
It was his first time seeing real snow -- a concept he knew of only from television shows and books.
"I was in heaven, at first," he said. "We did snow angels and ran around in the snow. It was as fun as it could be."
The first day was great. The second day was good. By the third day, Fernandez longed for Mexico's sunny weather.
"I was like, 'Hey mom this is nice, but when do we go home?'"
The 1967 storm was preceded by a few days of unseasonably high temperatures.
It was 65 degrees on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 1967 -- an unusually warm January day in Chicago.
Mike McHugh, then a 15-year-old high school sophomore, tossed a baseball around his front lawn near Kedzie and Wellington avenues. He wondered when the Cubs would begin spring training and devised plans to visit Wrigley Field with friends.
The local news had initially predicted at least 4 inches of snow on Thursday, Jan. 26, 1967. The first flakes started swirling at 5:02 a.m. But as the snow continued to pile up into the evening, McHugh realized it wasn't going to stop any time soon. Winds of up to 53 miles an hour created 15-foot drifts throughout the city.
"We were just kind of amazed that it kept coming down," he said. "It kept coming and coming and coming."
It didn't stop until 10:10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 27, 1967. Over the course of 29 hours, 23 inches of snow had fallen on Chicago. The previous record snow for the city was 19.2 inches on March 25 and 26, 1930, according to the National Weather Service.
"I remember walking down the street -- the piles of snow were towering above me so it kind of felt like I was walking through tunnels," said Irving Park resident Fred Simon, who was 13 at the time. "It was pretty spectacular."
Simon, 63, hiked to the lakeshore near Evanston after the blizzard.
"The ice and snow caverns and formations there were just incredible, and a lot of fun for kids who were my age at the time -- and probably really dangerous too," he said.
McHugh and a friend trekked toward the Belmont entrance to the Kennedy Expressway a block from his home. They climbed an abandoned semi-truck, searching for the magnificent skyscrapers along the lake shore.
"When we were on top of those semis, it was really amazing," he said. "You could look down at the expressway toward downtown and all you could see was an ocean of white covering everything. Everything was silent."
McHugh, now of Springfield, said his neighbors sprung to action to help stranded vehicles and pedestrians.
"It was really nice to see the great people of Chicago helping each other out," he said. "I distinctly remember people even trying to help push buses out -- can you imagine that? Groups of maybe 16 people trying to push buses out so people who were riding the bus could get home safely."
His sister-in-law, Mary Jo McHugh, was on her way home from her job in the West Loop when the city began to shut down.
Her "L" train was delayed indefinitely, and buses were trapped in the snow. McHugh lived five miles away in the Humboldt Park neighborhood but she decided to walk home with a friend, catching rides from strangers wherever she could.
"People were helping each other -- it was wonderful. People were stopping in cars that could get through, and they would take you a certain distance," she said. "Back then, you could trust people to take you where you wanted to go. You never thought twice about getting in and letting them give you a ride home."
McHugh, 69, encountered several obstacles on her way home, but said she was touched at how residents came together to help each other. At one point, a man carried her over a snow mound.
"He saw that I was just standing there because I didn't know how to get over this mound of snow and just came up behind me, lifted me by my shoulders and carried me over. I'll never forget that," she said.
"Strangers, neighbors -- everybody just helped each other and pulled together. It was really something."
On the day the blizzard hit, Nancy Schmude had worn her usual business attire for work -- a dress and heels.
"I got to work around 7:30 in the morning and only flurries were falling," she said. But as the storm raged on, she watched out of a window and began worrying about her commute home.
Schmude, now 69, finally caught a train home to Franklin Park about 8 p.m. after waiting nearly six hours.
"I stepped down off the train expecting to hit the platform but my feet continued to sink into the snow up to my waist," she said. "Unfortunately my friend, who is shorter than I, sank a bit further."
Once the storm ended Friday, helicopters became the city's lifeline. Twelve helicopters from the police department, WGN and others leased from private owners performed all sorts of mercy missions, delivering insulin to some of the estimated 150,000 snowbound diabetics, and 200 pounds of food to motorists still stranded in their cars, according to a Tribune story at the time.
By Saturday, commuter trains were running and most CTA bus routes were operating. The city sent a workforce of 2,000 people with 500 snow plows out to clear the streets. Snow was hauled to the Chicago River. O'Hare finally reopened around midnight Monday.
There have been several major blizzards in Chicago since then, including the most recent 2015 Super Bowl Sunday Blizzard, and the city has adopted policies and procedures to help manage storms.
"The (2015 blizzard) came in on a Friday and by Monday morning the city was operational and ready to go for Monday rush hour," said Rich Guidice, first deputy director of the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications. "We're always updating our plans and incorporating things we've learned from past experiences."
The city now enforces an overnight parking ban on 107 miles of main streets between Dec.1 and April 1, a direct response to the 1967 and 1979 blizzards, according to the city's website. A separate parking ban is activated for 500 miles of main streets any time at least two inches of snow falls.
As head of the Department of Streets and Sanitation, Williams now controls a fleet of about 330 plows that are deployed in phases based on total snowfall, the speed at which it is falling and wind conditions.
Williams said the first priority is to clear main routes and Lake Shore Drive to prevent the city from shutting down the way it did in 1967.
"If you lose your main arterial streets, your city shuts down. Your emergency vehicles can't get through, people can't get through to their place of employment, they can't get home," he said. "Everything stops. That's what you don't want to happen."
With more than 1,400 cameras throughout Chicago, road sensors and advanced weather forecast systems, the city can monitor snow conditions in real time. Officials use sensors to evaluate road conditions and GPS technology to track employees.
Streets and Sanitation is prepared to handle up to 16 inches of snow on its own, then can tap into the city's water and transportation departments for help clearing streets.
The agency may also hire private contractors, if needed. In 1967's state of emergency, Mayor Richard J. Daley appealed to owners of snow-removal equipment to donate their services and help out.
"We're much better prepared today than we were then," Williams said. "We have a lot of knowledgeable people, we have a lot of fantastic equipment to work with, and we're certainly prepared to keep our city operating."
This article is written by Nereida Moreno from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.