Chicago Sun-Times:

Chicago River
The Chicago River overflowed its banks and flooded the Riverwalk after overnight showers and thunderstorms across the city Monday, May 18, 2020 in Chicago. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times


Across the Chicago area, the storms Sunday wreaked havoc: submerging the popular downtown Riverwalk; flooding highways, streets, parks and basements; and causing power outages that knocked some radio and TV stations off the air and closed the city’s tallest building.

Chicago is on pace to see its wettest May on record after more than six inches of rainfall soaked the area over a four-day span, leaving basements flooded and some roads impassable.

With nearly two weeks left until the end of the month, Chicago has already seen 8.2 inches of rainfall. The record of 8.25 inches was set just last year. With more rain in the forecast for Tuesday and possibly Saturday, it appears inevitable that May 2020 will be the wettest May on record in Chicago history.

More than 3.5 inches of rainfall was recorded last Thursday, according to the National Weather Service, making it the single wettest May day in Chicago since 1871. While the area was still saturated, another 3.11 inches of rain fell Sunday, making it the 5th wettest May day.

Willis Tower loses lights

Across the Chicago area, Sunday’s storms wreaked havoc that continued into Monday: submerging the popular downtown Riverwalk; flooding highways, streets, parks and basements; and causing power outages that knocked some radio and TV stations off the air and closed the city’s tallest building.

The outage that prompted the Willis Tower to be shut down to tenants and visitors Monday also darkened its famed antennas which can sometimes be seen from as far as Michigan. The basement in the 110-story building also flooded.

Lower Wacker Drive in the Loop — where dozens of homeless people have lived for decades — was flooded. The Chicago Fire Department said it had to deploy inflatable boats to rescue a half-dozen people from the subterranean roadway. Lower Wacker is expected to remain closed between Randolph and Harrison Streets through Saturday night due to flooding, according to the Department of Transportation.

City workers remove water from Lower Wacker Drive near Randolph Street after overnight flooding, Monday morning, May 18, 2020.
 Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times


River reversed, again

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago reversed the Chicago River — to flow into Lake Michigan, the river’s original direction — at its pumping station in north suburban Wilmette and at the Chicago River Controlling Works downtown to minimize flooding along the river’s banks.

A MWRD spokeswoman said the reversal at the downtown facility had ended by 11:45 a.m. Monday, but the reversal at the Wilmette Pumping station was still in place as of mid-afternoon.

It was not known when the river’s flow would return to normal or how much river water had made its way into the lake, the spokeswoman said. Monday afternoon, Bubbly Creek — the historically polluted southern fork of the river’s southern branch — could still be seen flowing north into the river.

In Boystown, the surge of water loosened a sewer covering. A video taken by resident Jeff Shields showed water cascading several feet into the air as rain pelted the North Side neighborhood.

Shields, who’s lived on the same block for eight years, said he experienced some flooding in his home after Thursday’s storms, and his building’s maintenance crew gave him a sump pump before Sunday’s deluge.

“All along [the block], if you had a garden apartment, you got some sort of water,” Shields said. “Luckily, I did not. Again, because of the sump pump. Without that, I would’ve been up a creek — literally.”

The Chicago Maritime Museum, which sits on the banks of the creek at 35th and Racine, said in a Facebook post that the water had swelled so much that it left a foot of sewage water inside.

TV, radio stations knocked off air

Media outlets also weren’t immune to the storms.

WVON-AM was kept off the air for several hours Monday. The station said “the building we broadcast from experienced severe flooding causing the power, internet, phone lines, and air conditioning to stop working.” The station remained silent as of Monday evening.

WCIU said earlier Monday that flooding had knocked out service to several television stations, including MeTV, CW26, The U, Heroes & Icons, Decades and Bounce.

Public transit was another casualty.

Flooding caused the CTA to suspend Blue Line service for about four hours between the Forest Park and Harlem stations on the Forest Park branch, according to the transit authority. The Red Line was suspended between the Garfield and 95th Street stations for nearly half an hour due to “debris on the tracks.”