14 February 2011

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre- The real weather that day.

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Chicago has some of the most dynamic weather of any major city. Dan's pic.

Perhaps no single event in the era of gangsters and prohibition is the crime known as the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre. Many movies have been made, and dozens of books written, about the event. Almost all put the blame (where the experts say it belongs) on Al Capone.

Most people have seen the movie about the crime and it shows a cold and quite snowy day leading up to the murders. As a meteorologist, I’ve often wondered, was it really snowing on Feb. 14, 1929??

It could just be “poetic license” as they say in Hollywood!

Weather records in Chicago date back to before 1871. The station was located at 162 West Washington Street until October 8, 1871. It was abandoned in a hurry on that evening as the great Chicago fire approached. The building and all the records were lost.

A room was rented at what is now 427 West Randolph Street on the 14th of October and observations resumed on the 16 of October in 1871. The station moved around some but on Jan 1, 1926, the University of Chicago began records that continued into the early 1960’s. So the station records to look at for Saint Valentine’s Day 1929 are those at the university.

The record for February 1929 is below – courtesy of the National Climate Data Center.

Data from the Univ. of Chicago for February 1929.

It was certainly a cold day. The records show an inch of snow the day before but no measurable snow on the 14th. I have seen interviews from witnesses who remember flurries that day.

More interesting, is that the record shows 4 inches on the ground on the 14th. It seems likely that in later years, people remembered the snow on the ground that day, but perhaps they confused the previous day’s snowfall with the cold flurries on the 14th.  So, based on the records it was a cold and snowy day in Chicago, but just flurries were falling on the fateful day in question.

Al Capone had no need of a coat on that day. He was in the warm sunshine of Miami Beach!