Chicago News

Chicago Weather: January thaw leads to widespread flooding, slick roads

Saturday, January 11, 2014
Thaw leads to widespread flooding, slick roads Expressway flooding delays commuters City asks for help in clearing storm drains Warm-up raises concerns of flooding, falling ice

The rising temperatures are welcome Friday night but the rising water is not, as flooding triggered by rain and melting snow is causing problems throughout the Chicago area.

Drivers are also learning firsthand how dangerous black ice can be. A freezing rain advisory is in effect Friday night.

In a scene repeated throughout the city, snow-covered catch basins unable to drain the rain and snow melt. The water is going down very slowly, if at all.

It's an icy mess.

Steady rain and snow melt made for a miserable Friday night on the roads.

Though air temperatures hovered above freezing ground temperatures remained frigid black ice causing numerous spinouts and crashes.

"Eventually, someone came down and rammed my car, and I saw him coming. I couldn't do anything about it," said driver Tom Kaplan. "And then it just rammed my car, and my car just kept going into this car. I had no control over anything. It's all ice."

During Friday's evening rush, the Illinois Department of Transportation reported periodic standing water on all area expressways.

"It's horrible out there," said David Lozano. "Horrible out there. Horrible. Hate the rain. It's nasty out there."

On surface streets conditions weren't much better.

In Niles, flooding forced the shutdown of the Dempster-Milwaukee viaduct.

On Western Avenue near 50th, standing water blocking an entire lane.

"Oh, the rain. You can barely see. There's a lot of fog. It's pretty tough, but we're getting home," said Nancy Urbina.

In Bucktown, Emily Simon was waiting to hear back from the city about her flooded basement.

"We anticipate digging out that sewer behind us unless we do hear back from somebody from the department of water or our local board for the city services," she said.

The city's water department has had crews out all day and all night, but officials are asking for help from residents. Officials said you don't have to get into the sewers, just clean off the tops of the grades.

Falling ice creates downtown dangers

The January thaw has also created dangers for those walking in downtown Chicago. The Hancock Building was blocked off Friday afternoon with police tape and a sign that read "Caution, falling ice."

"I absolutely went the other way, down the steps and avoided it as much as possible. I've seen too many people get hurt. (With ice falling?) Absolutely," said Victoria Budd.

City, suburbs attempt to clear snow from storm drains

As the snow melted, puddles popped up throughout the city. Water department crews worked to clear drains, using muscle power and help from a machine called an "orange peeler." The city has 24 out on the streets.

"We're going to be using them throughout the weekend to make sure all the catch basins are clean and free to accept all the water when this thaw starts happening," said Dwayne Hightower, deputy commissioner, Dept. of Water Management.

In the northern suburbs, public works departments raced against the rising temperatures and rain as they cleared street drains and gutters Friday afternoon.

"We're shifting over from a snow and ice operation to now dealing with it in the liquid form. (And how challenging is that?) It's a little bit different, it's a reallocation of crews," said Max Slankard, director of public works in Skokie.

"We're trying to get water to flow to the curb drains, obviously. We expect ponding, yard flooding. If I was a homeowner, I would expect damming in the home gutters," said Andy DeMonte, director of public works in Morton Grove.

And it's not just road ways, icicles clung to gutters as residents prepared for the next challenge: preventing flooding and water damage around their homes.

"I know it's going to be a mess, but I hope we're going to be okay," said Camilio Cardenas, Morton Grove resident.

The city of Chicago and suburban communities are asking residents to help out. If you are healthy and able, they ask that you clear the drain on your street or block.

"What we're asking is that if residents, from time to time, can come out, check their catch basins, grab a rake or broom, and clean off the top of it, that will help us out a great deal," said Dwayne Hightower, deputy commissioner, Dept. of Water Management.

In Chicago, it's essentially impossible for the crews to clear every one of them because there are 250,000 drains. That's why they hope residents can help.

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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