Rain and rapidly rising temperatures accompanied by thick fog threatened to cause flooding on Saturday in the Midwestern US after days of Arctic cold, heavy snow and ice.
Thick ice on roads that contributed to dozens of deaths had thawed and mountains of snow turned into pools and streams of water.
“It’s a Catch 22,” said Marisa Kollias, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Transportation. “We’re getting rid of one problem, the ice, but we’re getting another problem with the flooding.”
The National Weather Service posted flood watches and warnings on Saturday for parts of Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Missouri. As much as 5cm of rain fell in two hours during the night in west-central Illinois, the National Weather Service reported on Saturday.
And as warm air collided with cold, the weather service posted tornado watches for parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Kansas.
A powerful storm swept across a wide swath of south and central Illinois during the afternoon, packing wind gusts of 96kph to 112kph, National Weather Service meteorologist Patrick Bak said. Storms also produced hail and the weather service office in St. Louis received reports of funnel clouds.
In the Chicago area, repairs to some power lines were being slowed by flooding at ComEd substations, said spokesman Jeff Burdick.
Winds knocked out power to 63,600 ComEd customers on Saturday. Of those, 55,000 had power restored by Saturday evening.
High winds left 42,000 people in western Missouri without electricity; power had been restored to most by Saturday evening.
The weather service said the Chariton River was overflowing and causing minor flooding in Chariton, Iowa. Flood stage is 4m; the river was at 5.05m at 3am on Saturday and expected to rise a bit more. It said road flooding was reported in parts of Missouri.
By late Saturday, the rain had stopped and an ice storm swept across much of Iowa. Interstate 80 near Grinnell was closed for a while because of traffic accidents.
Around Chicago, Cook County authorities offered sandbags to communities that needed to fortify low-lying areas, county spokesman Sean Howard said.
Hundreds of people spent the night at Chicago’s Midway Airport, where all 82 flights on Friday evening were canceled as the thick fog rolled in. There were also more than 400 flight cancellations at O’Hare International Airport, the country’s second busiest.
Operations returned to near normal Saturday at Midway, although 36 flights were canceled because aircraft were out of position following Friday’s weather problems. More than 100 flights were called off on Saturday at O’Hare.
Temperatures also were rising in the Pacific Northwest, which has been pummeled by deep snow.
In Portland about 5cm of rain through on Saturday was expected to wash away much of the 48cm of snow that by one measurement had made this month the city’s snowiest month since January 1950.
Slippery roads and cold have been blamed for at least 44 deaths last week: 11 in Indiana; eight in Wisconsin; five each in Ohio and Michigan; four each in Kentucky and Missouri; two in Kansas; and one apiece in Illinois, Oklahoma, Iowa, Massachusetts and West Virginia.