Melting snow may bring new misery

Written By BY MITCH DUDEK Staff Reporter Posted: 03/17/2014, 11:18am
Array City crews from the Dept. of Streets & Sanitation relocate snow from South Shore High School to a vacant lot to improve visibility for safety purposes. | Alex Wroblewski/Sun-Times

Beautiful. Lingering. Loathed.

Chicago’s complicated relationship with snow could devolve further this week if rapidly warming temperatures cause a sudden melt and flooding.

Temperatures midweek are expected to breach the 40-degree mark.

The heat, if forecasts prove true, will cause a mess as snow turns to water and looks for a place to go. Down isn’t an option; the ground is frozen up to 20 inches in places.

Varying amounts of snow, including giant piles lining parking lots, driveways and sidewalks, hold different amounts of water. The 11 inches of snow at O’Hare contain about 2 inches of water.

If 50- or 60-degree temperatures move in, the majority of it could melt, potentially overwhelming storm drains and causing flooding.

“If the warming potential is maximized, it could present big problems, especially around low-lying areas with rivers and streams,” National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Castro said.

Ice on the water could break up and become entangled, forming an ice jam at a time when rivers and streams could already be swollen because storm sewers drain into them, Castro said.

Adding to the issue is Monday’s predicted snowfall of 4 to 8 inches.

“People should pay attention to the latest forecasts, especially people in flood-prone areas who might have to take action if things become bad,” Castro said.

This winter has been the third snowiest on record in Chicago, with 62.1 inches fallen. The record was set in the winter of 1978-79 when 81.1 inches fell.

“If it continues to snow, you’ll start seeing a lot of removal and relocation,” said Lynn Booe, operations manager for Beverly Snow & Ice Inc. “It could be a huge problem. There’s nowhere to put it. If you can’t see over a pile and it’s obstructing traffic, you’ll start to get tickets.”

The city of Chicago has started relocating snow on a limited basis from areas around schools and hospitals where it blocks lines of sight.

“A lot of companies have already drained all their winter funds,” Booe said.

A gradual melt, while alleviating flood worries, presents its own set of problems.

“If it’s a slow thaw, the ice on the ground becomes a puddle and then, when the sun goes down, everything refreezes,” Booe said.

Warmer temperatures will also allow gravity to finally claim a countless number of icicles.

“There are some massive, massive icicles or ice formations on some homes,” said Mike Hilborn, owner of Roof-To-Deck Restoration in Arlington Heights. “Some are located over porches or air conditioning units.”

Dozens of distraught homeowners have been calling Hilborn to report ice dams, a problem that occurs when ice on a roof acts as a reservoir and impedes water from flowing off the roof. The water eventually seeps inside.

“We have a hot-water steam machine we use to slice the ice apart into pieces and remove it,” Hilborn said. “It’s like a laser scalpel.”

Some frustrated people have taken hatchets and hammers to the ice, said Hilborn, who used to live in Minnesota. “One woman I knew of in St. Paul got on her roof with a chainsaw. I think after awhile she realized pretty fast it wasn’t going to work . . . she got down OK.”

The extreme weather has been a blessing to some businesses. Hilborn’s de-icing service costs nearly $300 an hour.

For Glenn Decegy, 17, a junior at the University of Chicago Lab Schools, the winter has been kind to his snow shoveling business.

“It’s been awesome. . . . I’ve made about $300 so far.”


Twitter: @mitchdudek

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