Winter reprieve brings threatening weather
By Christin Nance Lazerus firstname.lastname@example.org February 20, 2014 12:42PM
A car on Massachusetts Street, just north of 45th Avenue in Gary, is nearly submerged in melting snow Thursday morning. | Carole Carlson/Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 21, 2014 2:03AM
Overnight thunderstorms hastened the snow melt on Thursday, but beyond seepage in basements and large puddles forming in low-lying areas, municipalities were coping well with the watery onslaught.
However, the situation could quickly change with Thursday evening thunderstorms and snow in the forecast, officials said.
By early afternoon Thursday, moisture from the melting snow and warmer temperatures produced a thick fog, which limited visibility to less than a quarter of a mile in spots. The thunderstorms, which could produce wind gusts up to 60 mph, were expected to hit the area between 5 and 8 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. The weather service advised homeowners to secure loose objects and beware of falling ice. The light snow is possible overnight, mainly north of Interstate 80.
Area public works crews were out in force on Thursday, clearing catch basins and monitoring roads to make sure they are passable.
Hobart Public Works director John Dubach said the city is keeping an eye on Lake George in anticipation of possible flooding. As of Thursday morning, the proactive measures appeared to be working.
“We’ve had no problems that we haven’t been able to solve pretty quickly,” Dubach said.
He said there were a couple spots with high water, but the problems were solved as soon as crews cleaned the catch basins.
Dubach asked that people refrain from snowmobiling and ice fishing on Lake George, saying the flood gate was opened a little in anticipation of high water levels, which could cause the lake ice to crack. He said the channel could pose a bigger danger.
Mayor Brian Snedecor at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting warned residents there could be some flooding.
“Be prepared. Your sump pumps could be working overtime,” Snedecor said.
Councilman Dave Vinzant, D-4th, said because it’s been so cold for so long it will be awhile before the ground will be able to absorb all the snow as it melts.
“There will be a lot of standing water,” Vinzant said.
In Merrillville, Matt Lake, executive director of Stormwater Utility, said temporary stormwater runoff along low-lying roadways is inevitable with the combination of melting snow, rain, frozen ground and many storm drains covered by snow and ice.
Lake encouraged homeowners to clear any storm drains in their yards and make sure their sump pump drains and downspout extensions are uncovered.
Merrillville has been in contact with the county surveyor’s office about Turkey Creek, since most of it is within town boundaries, surveyor Bill Emerson Jr. said.
Emerson and his team were out Thursday surveying various sites of concern throughout the unincorporated areas of the county. He said the county is keeping an eye on a few hot spots, including Shady Shores near Shelby on the Kankakee River where pumps are hooked up and ready; the Hartsdale Pond in North Township near Dyer; the Cady Marsh and Harts ditches near Highland and Munster; Cady Marsh in Calumet Township and Turkey Creek in Merrillville.
The Little Calumet River rose to 9.28 feet at 4 p.m. Thursday, and minor flooding occurs at 12 feet. It was initially projected to crest at 11.7 feet Thursday night, but its level has lowered since then.
Hart Ditch was observed at 2.57 feet (minor flooding occurs at 12 feet) in Dyer and 3.5 feet in Munster (minor flooding occurs at 6 feet).
Dan Repay, the executive director of the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission, said even though the river is rising, he doesn’t think it would rise to anything that requires great attention.
“But there is going to be another wave of rain,” Repay said. “We’re still might need to do some closures at the bridges that cross the Little Cal.”
Munster Town Manager Tom DeGiulio said the town is doing pretty well with water so far, but reusable bladders and sandbags are ready to go if necessary.
“The river is moving well, no ice jams,” DeGiulio said. “Most of the rain was up north of us, although now there’s more space to put snow. The river is moving well, but we have to wait for water to come south to us. It’s just weird weather.”
DeGiulio said another possible danger arising is black ice.
“With the snow melting and the roads being wet during the day, and if low temperatures reach the 20s at night, we do have that potential for black ice,” he said.
Gary spokeswoman Chelsea Whittington said the city has received few calls, but the General Services Department and the Gary Sanitary District are responding to flood concerns. On Thursday morning, a motorist just barely made it through high waters on Martin Luther King Drive, then he declared “this road should be closed.”
Staff writer Carole Carlson, and correspondents Karen Caffarini and Carrie Napoleon contributed to this report.