A Portage Park basement flooded with 6-8 inches of water July 2, 2023. Credit: Provided

CHICAGO — Basements, businesses and streets across the city remained flooded Monday after a weekend of record-setting rainfall reminiscent of the “Supercell” storm of 2022.

Between 5 and 6 inches of rain blanketed the city Sunday, with 24-hour rainfall totals of up to 9 inches on the West Side and in the western suburbs. Flash flood warnings were in effect across the city for most of the day.

“This is definitely going to rank as one of the heaviest rainfall events in the city of Chicago’s history,” Kevin Birk, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, told Block Club.

The city of Chicago received nearly 1,500 flooded basement complaints in the last two days through their online 311 service requests map. Complaints were concentrated on the West and Northwest Side neighborhoods of West Garfield Park, Austin, Belmont Cragin and Portage Park. 

The majority of flooded basement problems reported to 311 following the July 1-2 storms were concentrated in the West and Northwest sides of the city. Credit: City of Chicago data screenshot

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office warned Chicagoans Monday to “avoid driving in flooding areas” and said officials are focusing emergency assistance on cars that remained trapped in flooded viaducts across the city. 

“The Department of Water Management has all available flood mitigation equipment on the streets,” the office said in a statement.

The Mayor’s Office also advised residents to limit their household water use as the sewer system struggled to “move the water efficiently.”

To avoid further flooding in basements, residents should be conservative when showering, washing dishes and doing laundry, the Mayor’s Office said. 

The Chicago Department of Water Management and Office of Emergency Management and Communications were not immediately available for comment Monday.

Neighbors In The Aftermath

At a press conference in Austin on Monday, Johnson said city leaders are acutely concerned with flooding on the hard-hit West Side. 

“The full force of government will be available,” Johnson said. He said police, fire departments, and other emergency response groups were working to address damage across the city.

Johnson also reaffirmed his commitment to make sure the city’s Department of the Environment was “fully funded and staffed,” so that the city could “provide the additional support that’s needed [and] have policies in place that can better prepare our city for these type of challenges.”

As city officials scrambled to address the flooding and help residents, social media was awash Monday with reports and images of waterlogged neighborhoods, homes and businesses. 

Restaurants and shops announced temporary closures. In the suburbs of Cicero and Berwyn, videos circulating on Twitter Sunday showed cars plowing through multiple inches of standing water. Residents were seen canoeing in the street, according to the Sun-Times.

Along the Chicago Riverwalk, areas that were engulfed by water Sunday appeared to have returned mostly to normal by Monday afternoon.

“We sold out our tours today, it’s crazy how different it’s been from yesterday,” said river tour guide Hilary Marzec. “There’s still debris in the river. It’s clear we had storms yesterday.”

Still, the Riverwalk was closed off by signs and security west of State Street, leaving other businesses with no choice but to close.

Workers washed the decks of the Chicago Riverwalk that had previously flooded. Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago

Joe Sislow, of Portage Park, was among the many Northwest Siders whose basements flooded this weekend — the second time in a calendar year, he said. 

Sislow reported the flooding to the city around 3 p.m. Sunday, up to 8 inches at its the deepest point, he said. Most of it had drained about an hour later, he said.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago opened the locks to reverse the flow of the Chicago River and release excess water into Lake Michigan at 4 p.m. Sunday, according to a press release. Sislow wishes officials had reacted more quickly, especially since it’s the second time much of the Northwest Side and suburbs have been hit, he said.

“The reason I didn’t think this was going to happen again was because [weather experts] are like, ‘This is a once-in-a-decade amount of rain and it won’t be expected again,'” Sislow said. “But now, twice in a year. The new normal is not what they think it is.”

Sislow and other neighbors on social media voiced concerns and frustrations over the city’s handling of the storms. Sislow said he would like to see improvements to remediation sensors to identify where and why flooding is occurring and how large-scale construction that uses the same water mains affect drainage backups. The city could also help residents pay and install backup or restrictor valves, he said.

Erika Chávez of Logan Square said she had to scramble Sunday afternoon to set up a pump in her basement as water and sewage began welling up through the drain.

She said all of her neighbors without flood control systems reported flooding in their basements.

“I was at Home Depot yesterday, I was at Home Depot today. There were people scrambling to purchase sump pumps, ejector pumps, dropping hundreds of dollars,” Chávez said.

Chávez said many of her neighbors lack flood insurance and were doing everything they could to stem damages that homeowners’ insurance doesn’t usually cover. The city has a responsibility to strengthen its flood prevention efforts, she said.

“With the crisis that we’re experiencing with our climate, I can only imagine that situations like this are gonna get worse and worse,” Chávez said. “And so the city needs to be very transparent about what it plans to do to help its residents as we’re starting to experience these massive rain events.”

River Watch

On Monday afternoon, the North Branch of the Chicago River was higher than it had been in weeks, with a fast current due to the rain, neighbors said.

During the heaviest rainfall Sunday, neighbor Daniel Johnson said his home’s gutters were also overwhelmed.

“Our sewer line backed up into our house yesterday,” said Johnson, who lives just south of the river near the intersection of Argyle Street and Central Park Avenue. “We had sewage coming out of the basement shower stall drain and the sewer drain in our laundry room, as well.”

A view of the North Branch of the Chicago River near North Central Park Avenue on July 3, 2023, a day after record-setting rainfall swept the city. Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago

Neighbor Christiana Tillman lives north of the river, near Carmen and Central Park avenues. She had just returned from an out-of-town trip with her husband Sunday and was relieved to see they’d only gotten “some seepage” in their basement.

Tillman said they’ve spent a considerable amount of money installing French gutters, sump pumps and other mitigation systems due to their past experience with flooding.

“In this area, you just never know if it’s going to affect your basement or not,” she said.

Still, she said the issue of flooding and standing water after storms isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be in the area, thanks to the Albany Park Tunnel.

“We were happy when they installed that because we felt like it helped. The river hasn’t really flooded over since then,” Tillman said.

Rain Derailed NASCAR

In downtown Grant Park, this weekend’s planned NASCAR street race was forced to abbreviate its schedule of events after rain moved in late Saturday. 

Planned concerts by the Chainsmokers, Miranda Lambert and Charley Crockett were canceled. The start of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race was delayed for more than an hour, and the race length was cut to 75 laps instead of the planned 100. 

The Paddock Club is flooded with water during the rain delay before the inaugural NASCAR Chicago Street Race on July 2, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

By Monday morning, crews had begun breaking down barricades and bleachers along the race course. Foot and vehicle traffic remained light, and there were few signs of Sunday’s sogginess.

The Metra and CTA reported full train service Monday, though some bus lines had been temporarily rerouted

Both Metra and CTA were set to re-enter altered service schedules Tuesday for the Fourth of July holiday.

Scattered thunderstorms and high temperatures were expected to continue into this week, including on the Fourth, according to the National Weather Service. Weather was expected to clear up by Thursday.

The mayor’s office encouraged residents to report flooding by calling 311 or visiting 311.chicago.org.

Check out more photos and video of the flooding:

The view from a car approaching the flooded 55th Street viaduct east of Halsted, July 2, 2023. Credit: Provided
Harrison Park in Pilsen was one of many areas in the city that was under water after the storms July 2, 2023. Credit: Provided
Parts of the Riverwak near State Street remained closed Monday due to flooding. Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago

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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park reporterrnrnalex@blockclubchi.orgnnLincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park reporterrnrnalex@blockclubchi.org Twitter @avhndz