Chicago Weather: Climbing temps, rainy forecast raise flooding concerns

The warmest day of the year set a much-anticipated thaw in motion as the thermometer hit 46 degrees in some parts of the Chicago area.
February 18, 2014 8:26:41 PM PST
The warmest day of the year set a much-anticipated thaw in motion as the thermometer hit 46 degrees on Tuesday in some parts of the Chicago area. But climbing temperatures combined with rain in the forecast are adding up to big concerns about the potential for flooding.

PHOTOS: Thundersnow! strikes Chicago

Three to six inches of snow - and as much as eight inches in some areas - fell on Monday. Snow totals from Monday's snow storm made it Chicago's fifth snowiest winter on record. Now the warm-up starts.

Munster residents are nervously eyeing the Little Calumet River and Thursday's forecast. Anything more than an inch and a half of rain here could cause flooding along the Little Calumet, and right now the Army Corps of Engineers is forecasting at least an inch and a quarter.

"If it's an intense thunderstorm as they're predicting, that's scary. But if it's a drizzle all day long, I don't think we have too much to worry about," said Dan Repay, Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission.

The river last spilled its banks in 2008, flooding homes in numerous communities. And though the Army Corps has built new protections, including a flood wall, officials have tens of thousands of sandbags at the ready-- with 200,000 more able to be filled.

"It doesn't take too much to raise the river at a fast pace, and we're worried about the ice jamming up and causing a possibility of a backup," said Battalion Chief David Pelc, Munster Fire Department.

"We have to just wait until Mother Nature decides what she wants to do, and we'll react accordingly," said Repay.

Day one of the big thaw saw chunks of ice breaking off of downtown Chicago buildings and raining down on streets.

With snow melt leaving behind standing water, the city is asking residents to help clear the tops of catch basins. The thaw comes as the water department works double-time with heavy equipment to fix problem drains.

"Some of the things that accumulate are plastic bags, tree branches, cans, all types of debris," said Dwayne Hightower, deputy commissioner, Chicago Department of Water Management.

Water main breaks remain a problem. The ground is still below freezing, even though the air temperature is above.

"If the residents continue to keep the water trickling, that can help prevent the frozen pipes," said Hightower.

Since the first of the year, the number of 311 calls about water problems is five times higher than this same period last winter.

"No water at 7:30 this morning, so we're trying our best," said James McDaniels, Roseland neighborhood resident.


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