Chicago’s floods are getting worse as torrential rains become more commonplace

There was one terrible torrential rain when I lived in Chicago in 2014. It was crazy. Underpasses and streets filled with water. Basements flooded everywhere. I remember thinking, “How does a city this size not have adequate drainage?”

The sub-basement and elevator shaft flooded in my six-story 1960s building in Edgewater a block from Lake Michigan. (The common areas of the building smelled like mold the rest of the time I lived there.)

I was on the eastbound 77 Belmont CTA bus in a city where it was total traffic gridlock. The standing-room only bus had moved less than two blocks in an hour. We finally reached the edge of a giant pool of water in an underpass under a highway. The bus driver started to inch his way across the newly formed lake under the bridge. Water started rushing into the bus around everyone’s feet.

Next to me was a toddler whose mother was standing next to him with a smaller child already in her arms. The toddler started screaming so I picked him up. The mother smiled at me and said, “Thank you.”

The bus stalled with water just above the tops of my shoes.

We managed to get the doors of the bus opened and I waded through the water, holding the child above my shoulders, to safety. I walked home three miles soaked.

They called it a 100-year rain event. Except it hadn’t been 100 years since the last time it had happened. Not even close.

It hadn’t even been been five years since Chicago was hit again Sunday, Sept. 11. It had only been since last May when flooding torrential rains had hit the city.

As the water rushed in on Sunday, he wondered why the sump wasn’t working.

“Turns out, it wasn’t plugged in all the way. One of the dogs probably knocked it loose,” Meyer said. He pushed the plug further into the outlet and water began draining immediately.

He realizes he was lucky.

“A neighbor from a couple blocks away posted a video of a geyser of water shooting up from a sewer opening in the street,” he said.

While heavy rains and flooded basements may go together for a lot of Chicago residents, Sunday’s steady rains were unusual, at least in one respect, according to the National Weather Service.

The rainfall rates were more akin to those that can occur in tropical weather conditions or even during hurricanes, said Todd Kluber, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

“We were seeing total rain rates [that] were about 6 to 8 inches per hour,” Kluber said Monday. “Typical rainstorms are about 3 to 5 inches.”

That means if rain continued to fall at that rate for an hour, it would’ve accumulated to as much as 8 inches of water, but it only lasted about 10 minutes, which resulted in about 1 inch of water — still significant enough to induce flooding throughout the city.

Crazy. It won’t take too much more of this and a lot of people in Chicago won’t be able to get flood insurance.

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