Chicago Weather: Flood watches in effect in Illinois, Indiana

February 19, 2014 (CHICAGO)

PHOTOS: Thundersnow! strikes Chicago

The mix of heavy rain and melting snow add up to a major flood threat. And on Wednesday night, many people are scrambling to prepare. Precautions are in place and now for many folks it's time to wait.

The state's emergency management agency is worried not just about river flooding but the potential for flash flooding, especially on roads.

On Wednesday night, Bob Sabel's sump pump was working, but the impending onslaught of water at his home had the Palos Hills resident taking no chances.

"It's 11 years old, and I had to replace the other one at 11 years, so I knew this one was living on borrowed time," said Sabel.

Sabel called Four Seasons Home Services to install a new sump pump, along with a backup. It was one of many stops today for technician Sidney Kincaid.

"If they're at their end of life, they're overextending, and they're failing," said Kincaid.

Kincaid showed us what every homeowner should be doing to check that their sump pump is working properly: simply pour water in the pit, and manually lift the sump pump's float switch.

"If it's not working, if it's working intermittently, that tells us right there that you're going to have problems," said Kincaid.

At Palos Ace Hardware, hoses, waterproofing and sandbags were selling fast.

"Just be prepared. It's coming. There's some things you can do, so you might as well try to do it," said Casey McDermott, Palos Heights resident.

"They're asking about seepage problems and how to solve them now before tomorrow," said Jim Bishop, Palos Ace Hardware.

As Chicago water department crews were busy clearing catch basins, Cook County Homeland Security activated its incident command center to prepare for a large-scale flood response.

"We've been on numerous conference calls, using our technology systems to convey information, prevent situations as they arise, make sure that we're all understanding what's going on," said Michael Masters, executive director, Cook County Homeland Security.

It promises to be a very long day tomorrow for IDOT and the Tollway Authority. They'll have trucks out in the morning salting because of the freezing rain. And then they'll switch gears, responding to any reports of standing water on the expressways.

A Flood Watch is in effect Wednesday night until Thursday afternoon for Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Ford, Grundy, Iroquois, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, La Salle, Lee, Livingston, and Will counties in Illinois and for Benton, Jasper, Lake, Newton and Porter counties in Indiana.

Residents concerned about rising rivers

Residents who live along the Fox River and its tributaries in Elgin fear that flooding is a near certainty. Those who have been there before say it's not a matter of if this Elgin neighborhood will flood, but how bad it will be.

"In 2007 and 2009 we had federal disasters here and that was not with snow, just heavy rains," said Karen Flanagan, Elgin Public Works.

City of Elgin crews have been working hard the last few days, using whatever means they can to clear the snow and ice from the storm drains. They also have teams going door to door, warning the city's most susceptible residents of what's to come. Informational packets are left for those who aren't home. The biggest concern, say officials, is that because in some areas the ground is frozen up to 20 inches from the surface, there is no place for the melting mounds of snow to go.

"Because of the problems with the frozen ground and the amount of snow we are going to be dealing with we anticipate flooding issues and seepage into basements where people haven't had it before," said Tim Maroder, Elgin Fire Department.

Guadalupe Lopez is already following the city's lead. With melting snow already pooling in the driveway, he's been chipping away at the ice on the road in front of his sidewalk, hoping to create a path for the water to go.

"It's supposed to be raining and melting. It's supposed to rain tomorrow so that's why I'm trying to get all this done now," said Lopez.

In Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood, many homes historically get flooded whenever the water level gets too high. City officials are asking residents to help by making sure the drains are clear of snow and city crews are working overtime to clear the ice and debris.

"What we're expecting to see is localized flooding in the streets more so than anywhere else, and that's city-wide. There's no part of the city that won't see this," said Thomas Powers, Chicago Department of Water Management.

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