It is fitting perhaps that this winter would give the Chicago area a wisp of spring hope, only to wallop the region with yet another storm.
This one could be a "powerhouse" that might feature flooding, a mix of snow, sleet, rain and hail. And, yes, 50 mph winds.
That's what winter-weary Chicagoans were bracing for come Thursday, when the National Weather Service has issued a flood watch from 3 a.m. until noon. Some forecasts project rain measuring up to 1.25 inches before a cold front drops temperatures into the 20s on Friday morning and over the weekend.
"This is going to be your full-purpose winter storm," WGN meteorologist Tom Skilling said Wednesday afternoon, when temperatures were in the 40s and skies sunny. "This winter isn't over yet."
That rain is going to fall on what remains of 70 inches of snow that has come down this winter, and public works officials are concerned that storm sewer grates along curbs and in some yards throughout the region remain buried. Those conditions could yield water with no place to flow and lead to nightmarish homeowner scenarios of malfunctioning sump pumps and rooftop ice jams. And don't forget about windblown limbs snapping power lines.
In response, towns across the region, including Northbrook, Glenview, Westmont, Wheaton and Oak Park, dispatched crews to clear curbside sewer grates and encouraged homeowners to help. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged added resources to prepare for flooding but beseeched Mother Nature for a break and talked about ordering the city's water commissioner to see a film about the biblical flood to help prepare.
And in DuPage County, where flooding has been an ongoing concern for years, the county's stormwater management division announced it was expecting to activate 16 flood control facilities along Salt Creek and the West Branch of the DuPage River that can handle nearly 4 billion gallons.
"River elevations are expected to reach a foot and a half above the trigger point for flood operations," the division said in a release Wednesday. That level is a "minor to moderate flood event," the county stated.
Downers Grove resident Georgia Karonis, 79, and her neighbor, Donna Zellner, 70, who live in a flood-prone subdivision near 55th Street and Fairview Avenue, were performing public service Wednesday afternoon. They were out in the sunshine clearing snow away from a sewer on the street in front of their houses.
"I can hear that trickling (water) sound now," Karonis said. "That means it's clean and the water is going down. That's what I want to hear."
Zellner said she also made a trench in the snow near her back patio to keep water away from the house.
"The water needs a place to go," she said. "I want it to move away from the house."
Along the East Branch of the DuPage River on Wednesday, Lisle resident Bob Schumacher, 74, said he was "not too concerned," about his nearby home flooding Thursday, even though his basement flooded when the river overflowed last spring. "The ground is frozen, so I am hoping the water will flow away faster," he said. "It won't be saturating the ground this time."
But river flow concerns Skilling, who noted that many rivers are ice-laden, which could lead to the formation of ice dams and add to runoff.
"A lot will depend on how much melts and how heavy the rains are," Skilling said.
Like in many suburbs, Chicago's short-term plans included deploying additional workers from Department of Water Management to clear litter from catch basins so water can drain into the sewer system rather than pooling on the streets as temperatures rise.
"You get the fifth-most amount of snow, when it warms up, you're going to have flooding," Emanuel said Wednesday. "That's just the force of nature. And if Mother Nature's listening, after this winter, enough already. You're trying our patience. You win. Stop it already. No more."
The mayor also joked that he instructed city Water Commissioner Tom Powers to go see "Noah," the soon-to-be-released film starring Russell Crowe as the man who builds the ark. "I called Commissioner Powers, recommended he see the movie 'Noah,' come back with a plan," Emanuel said at an unrelated news conference.
The fierce weather may occur Thursday, but the phone started ringing incessantly Tuesday at Advanced Roofing Team in Rolling Meadows, said John Cavanaugh, sales manager for the company.
"We have phone calls that are in the hundreds," Cavanaugh said, adding that his email inbox also was flooded with messages from homeowners whose roofs had been damaged by water blocked by ice dams. "A lot of ceilings collapsed from the weight of the water."
Unfortunately, Cavanaugh and other roofers have been limited in what help they are able to offer. The roof must be cleared of all snow before crews can start repairing, he said.
"There's not a lot you can do," he said, "until it's all off and we can go to work."
Byrne and Gregory are Tribune reporters. Ruzich is a freelance reporter. Also contributing were Tribune reporters Stephanie Baer, Jonathan Bullington, Alexandra Chachkevitch, Vikki Ortiz Healy, Quan Truong, Wes Venteicher and Geoff Ziezulewicz.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun