By Jeremy Manier and Sara Olkon
"This is by far the most snow I have ever seen in my life."”
—Third-year Eduardo Gonzalez
As the great winter storm of 2011 subsided on Wednesday, Feb. 2, art history student Emmy Mickevicius set about using the blizzard’s transformation of the campus and Hyde Park as a spark for creativity.
Mickevicius, a fourth-year in the College and an avid photographer, wandered down 53rd Street and braved the winds at Promontory Point, taking digital photos of a scene that reminded her of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. She and fellow fourth-year Peter Damm explored the awe-inspiring new snowscape.
“Along the way, we met dozens of people with the same idea and even ended up talking and taking pictures with random strangers,” Mickevicius said.
The 20-inch snowfall went by many monikers—the Groundhog Day Blizzard, the Snowpocalypse, snOMG, the Blizzaster, even Snowtorious B.I.G. It made local streets impassable and brought citywide traffic to an historic standstill, forcing the University to cancel classes for two days. Some used the time to catch up on work, others caught up with old friends, and at one point on Wednesday, hundreds of students converged on the Main Quad for an old-fashioned snowball fight.
Many people heroically carried on with business as usual, including those with missions to keep the community safe, maintain buildings, serve food, or care for Medical Center patients. They worked even harder, and sacrificed time with families, in order to serve others. Fourth-year political science major Allen Linton II set up a Facebook page to thank University staff for all the extra work.
Alejandro Solis, an MBA candidate in the Class of 2011 at Chicago Booth, saw the storm as an excellent chance to go snow kiting. He said he prefers using his kite gear to surf in the warm currents of the Caribbean, but he’s found that it also works in Chicago’s snowy parkland.
He and his roommate, Diego Villalobos, a second-year at the Harris School of Public Policy, trudged through thick snow to Northerly Island, just south of the Shedd Aquarium.
“When we got there, the conditions were favorable, although the wind a bit gusty,” he said. “Good enough for us! So we set up the kites, and just went for it.”
Solis, 28, and Villalobos, 27, both from Mexico, keep their kite gear with them, always on the lookout for chances to surf. As for their latest experiment? Surfing in snow is not ideal, Solis conceded. “ It’s a little bit harder when you fall,” he said. But they’d do it all again.
“We were excited about the blizzard,” said Solis. “Everyone around was complaining. We were like the opposite.”
For David Rubin, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center and the Pritzker School of Medicine, the blizzard translated into a sudden and most welcome gift of “found free time.”
“It’s free time to do the things we wish we could do more of, like spending time with your kids,” Rubin said.
Hyde Park native Elizabeth Fama, Lab Schools ’83, BA’85, MBA’91, PhD’96, was little fazed by the storm. She spent much of the extra time revising her latest young-adult novel. “I mostly did what I always do: I wrote with my laptop in front of the fire!” she said.
Fama jogged to the Point the morning after the blizzard with her husband, Chicago Booth professor John Cochrane, and two of their children—Sally, a College fourth-year; and Eric, a College second-year. Sally did homework, went sledding at 54th Street and Greenwood, and worked on an oil painting; Eric worked on finishing his latest comic book. Their other two children, Gene and Lydia, enjoyed their time off from the Lab Schools. “I’d have to say we were unusually equipped, emotionally, to deal with what others might feel was a lock-down,” Elizabeth said.
For Fama, a weather-hardy Chicagoan, the blizzard seemed like old hat, but for many students it was a true first.
“It was definitely like nothing I had ever seen before,” said second-year linguistics major Alexa Silverman. She liked how everyone around her seemed to find creative ways to enjoy the snow.
“People were really excited,” she said. “A friend made a tunnel near the lakeshore; people were jumping in the snow.”
The scene was a little mind-boggling for third-year Eduardo Gonzalez, a native of Puerto Rico, as he surveyed the lakefront with his girlfriend near the Museum of Science and Industry.
“This is by far the most snow I have ever seen in my life,” Gonzalez said.
Originally published on February 7, 2011.