River towns brace for record-breaking flooding
Communities battered by multiple waves of heavy rains since Tuesday night are now bracing for potentially record-breaking flooding along rivers and waterways in the North and Northwest suburbs.
The National Weather Service predicts the Des Plaines River could reach all-time high levels in Gurnee, Lincolnshire and Des Plaines by the weekend due to the heavy storms that dumped 6-8 inches of rain over parts of Lake County by Wednesday morning. A flash flood watch issued Wednesday evening included Boone, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Will, and Winnebago counties.
An additional flood warning for Lake County also was issued Wednesday evening, alerting residents of record flooding of the Fox River. At 7 p.m. Wednesday the stage was 15.6 feet. The flood stage is 11 feet, according to the service.
The Fox River is expected to continue rising to near 17.5 feet by Thursday morning, and then begin falling.
Bob Gardiner, the rainfall analyst for Lake County Stormwater Management, said residents should be ready.
"At the levels being (forecast), we will see a lot of roads and homes impacted," he said. "We are coordinating with municipalities to ensure they know how high the rivers are expected to reach and to be prepared."
Lake County took the brunt of the rain, according to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. Libertyville recorded more than 6 inches of rain overnight, Gurnee received almost 5.5 inches, while Lake Villa and Lake Bluff had 5.3 inches.
Anticipating significant flooding, Gurnee officials Wednesday afternoon closed Grand Avenue, a major thoroughfare in town, from routes 21 to 41.
Jack Linehan, the assistant to the village administrator, said as bad as the flooding was Wednesday, the worst is yet to come.
The National Weather Service predicts the Des Plaines River in Gurnee will reach 5.5 feet over flood stage at noon today, eclipsing the previous record by more than 6 inches.
Linehan said the village was seeking volunteers to help prepare sandbags to protect houses and businesses in the flood zone.
As of 8 p.m., the Des Plaines River was at level of 10.5 feet and rising in Gurnee, according to the National Weather Service. The river rose more than 4 feet overnight.
"We're watching to see where the rain comes from," Linehan said. "The river continues to rise as rain flows down into it."
"It's not about where the water is now; it's about where it will be in four hours," he said.
The river will crest at 5 feet over flood stage in Lincolnshire at 7 p.m. Thursday, according to the weather service. That is more than a foot above the previous record set in 2013.
In Des Plaines, the river is expected to reach 6.5 feet over flood stage, about 6 inches over the record, at 1 a.m. Friday. The city activated its Emergency Operations Center to initiate preliminary actions needed to protect residents and property.
"All EOC personnel are closely monitoring local weather forecasts, road conditions, and river levels, both up and down river from Des Plaines. The city is prepared to take the appropriate steps should conditions indicate that additional actions are necessary," a statement from the city reads.
The river was expected to reach 2 feet above flood stage in Des Plaines by Thursday afternoon. At that height, water will pond on the pavement on Busse Highway, River Road, Central Road and Big Bend Drive.
Des Plaines was not yet seeing flooding Wednesday morning, said John Pluta, the city's deputy executive coordinator for homeland security and emergency management.
Officials said the Chain O' Lakes rose about 6 inches overnight Tuesday and Wednesday morning due to the rainfall. With the Fox River feeding the lakes, they're expected to continue rising in coming days and overflow their shores. Fox Lake officials said they are keeping a close eye on rainfall totals and water coming downstream from Wisconsin.
New Munster, Wisconsin, received 7.39 inches of rain overnight -- water that eventually will make its way down the Fox River into the Chain O' Lakes.
Numerous other roads were closed at various points of the day, including two southbound lanes on the Tri-State Tollway between Atkinson Road and the Lake Forest Oasis.
Significant flooding also was reported in the Pingree Grove and Elgin areas, with cars stuck in floodwaters and many streets impassible, the National Weather Service said. Elgin had received 4.2 inches of rain as of early this morning.
"I've never seen it this bad," Lindenhurst resident Hillary Lawson said. "I have six inches in our subbasement, but other people on our street have 3 feet of water in their basements."
Lawson said her subdivision at the corner of Lindenhurst and Woodlane drives has a history of flooding, and the heavy rainfall overnight coupled with additional rain in the early morning hours was too much for pumps to handle. She finally lost the battle with the water when power went out at 9:15 a.m.
"Everyone around us is under water now," she said.
In Mundelein, about 40 residents were evacuated from their homes by authorities because of the flooding.
Mundelein firefighters, assistant by police officers, evacuated about 25 people from an apartment building on the 200 block of Lake Street. Some residents were able to walk out of their homes to dry land but others, particularly some seniors, were taken away on small boats by firefighters, Deputy Police Chief Don Hansen said.
Public safety crews evacuated about residents from the first floor of a two-story apartment building on the 300 block of Walnut Court, too, after a small pond overflowed into the units. None of the residents were injured.
Most of the residents found shelter with family or friends. Some were taken to the police station, where they were given blankets and fed. The American Red Cross and volunteers with a local Community Emergency Response Team assisted.
Streets and intersections throughout Mundelein are flooded, including parts of heavily traveled Route 45 and Midlothian Road.
Village Administrator John Lobaito urged people not to walk on flooded streets. Manhole covers may have been pushed out of their holes by water pressure, creating potential hazards, he said. Public works crews are clearing debris from sewer inlets to reduce street flooding.
The public works department has set up sandbag stations in the Metra parking lot, 205 N. Archer Ave., and at Memorial Park, 251 N. Pershing Ave.
A limited number of filled sandbags are available, but people can make their own using shovels, sand and bags available at both sites.
Round Lake Beach resident David Bridges said his split level home has ankle-deep water in his basement on Hainesville Road. His neighbors' home has cars underwater in their driveway.
"It's not bad yet, but I'm expecting it to get much worse," he said. "We'll be calling our insurance company later."
Another of the hardest-hit communities was Libertyville, where officials met Wednesday to declare a state of emergency for the village.
"In the 44 years we've lived here, it's the worst I've ever seen," said resident Chris Geiselhart. "I mean the roads, the flooding of the creek, in backyards."
Libertyville Township crews closed Casey Road and were sandbagging about 9:15 a.m., said township Supervisor Kathleen O'Connor.
In Northwest suburbs
ComEd reported about 15,000 customers in the North and Northwest suburbs lost power because of the storms. That figure was down late Wednesday afternoon to about 9,000, including 1,418 in Buffalo Grove and 2,028 in Elgin.
The Arlington Heights Police Department's temporary headquarters at 1500 W. Shure Drive was on backup generators Wednesday morning after power went out in the office building where it is leasing space. The department is using roughly 2,300 square feet on the office building's first floor and 12,500 square feet on the third floor, during construction of a new police station in downtown Arlington Heights.
Flooding also was reported in parts of Northwest Cook County.
"We are dealing with some localized flooding in some key areas, but we're on top of each of them," Wheeling Village Manager Jon Sfondilis said.
A stretch of Wheeling Road was closed, creek levels were rising and there were some scattered power outages, Sfondilis said, adding that "manageable" is the best word to describe the situation.
"We've made a lot of infrastructure improvements in the last few years and those are starting to show their worth," he added.
Neighboring Prospect Heights tweeted an advisory for motorists to avoid Wheeling Road at Camp McDonald Road.
Barrington Village Manager Jeff Lawler said the rains wreaked havoc with some of the village's most flood-prone areas. Particularly hard hit was the intersection of Summit and Russell streets, adjacent to Miller Park and the village's Metra commuter station in the southeast corner of the village center.
Sanitary sewer manhole covers were blown off by the swell of floodwaters as each wave of rain was more intense than the last, he said.
Overnight rains were measured at 2.35 inches per hour and then 1.7 inches per hour. But in the morning, two further waves were measured at 3.76 inches per hour and 5.28 inches per hour, Lawler said.
Nevertheless, train operations through Barrington were not expected to be affected.
Palatine Deputy Village Manager Mike Jacobs said the biggest impacts his village had to deal with were flooded intersections at Smith and Colfax as well as Quentin and Palatine roads. But only the intersection of Smith and Colfax had to be closed for any length of time, he added.
In Hoffman Estates, Village Manager Jim Norris said there's been a large amount of road flooding but none that required closures.
Considering the amount of rain overnight and during the morning, Norris believed the village was handling the situation well. There had been no calls of power outages or sewage backups into homes.
Still, officials were hopeful to gain some breathing room in the late morning.
"We need the rain to lighten up a little bit," Norris said.
In Buffalo Grove, the village has received dozens of calls about street flooding, downed trees and power outages, village spokeswoman Melanie Santostefano said.
In the Fox Valley
Elgin fire officials said a strong line of thunderstorms with damaging winds hit at about 9:55 p.m. Tuesday. Multiple lightning strikes were recorded in the area south of National Street, and just south of Route 20 between Wilcox Avenue and Liberty Street.
Trees and power lines were knocked down, and power was knocked out from approximately the Grand Victoria Casino east to Liberty and most everything south of National Street.
The Elgin Fire Department responded to approximately 45 calls over a three-hour span. There were no injuries and no structure fires as a result of the weather, officials said.
Don Bryant, director of the Kane County Emergency Management Agency, said his crew was on standby and reaching out to municipalities to see if they needed any help with localized flooding. Bryant said more trouble could be ahead as rainwater works its way south from Wisconsin and his crew will be ready to respond with sandbagging, evacuations and other measures if needed.
"Our biggest concern is going to be water from Wisconsin coming down the Fox River," Bryant said, noting the next 24 to 48 hours will be crucial. "We are already monitoring that and getting ready to respond should the need arise."
The Fox Waterway Agency in Fox Lake declared the entire Chain O' Lakes waterway a no-wake zone effective immediately. The no-wake restriction spans the entire Chain O' Lakes, and the Fox River from McHenry to Algonquin. A no-wake restriction means boats must not travel faster than 5 mph in order to avoid producing a wake.
In Algonquin, the river was slightly above flood stage Wednesday. Forecasts call for it to crest at 13.3 feet at noon Saturday, nearly 4 feet above flood level.
The village warned residents in the floodplain that property damage property is likely and encouraged sandbagging. Sandbags will be available for residents as soon as practicable at various locations adjacent to the flood plain areas, officials said.
Evacuation likely will not be necessary, according to the village.
Wauconda officials initially placed a no-wake restriction on the town's Bangs Lake but then opted to close the lake to boaters as the water level rose.
• Daily Herald staff writers Doug T. Graham, Russell Lissau, Eric Peterson, Mick Zawislak and Harry Hitzeman contributed to this story.