Floods could follow ice, Arctic cold in Midwest
Anxiety level rises with temperatures as snowfall melts
CHICAGO - Rain and rapidly rising temperatures accompanied by thick fog threatened to cause flooding yesterday in the Midwest 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 yesterday for parts of Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Missouri. As much as 2 inches of rain fell in two hours during the night in west-central Illinois, the National Weather Service reported.
And as warm air collided with cold, the Weather Service posted tornado watches for parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Kansas.
After subzero temperatures in places earlier in the week, yesterday morning's readings were in the 40s as far north as Cheboygan, Mich., at the top of the state's Lower Peninsula, the Weather Service said.
However, up to 7 inches of snow may fall in the state today, the agency said.
The Weather Service said the Chariton River was overflowing and causing minor flooding in Chariton, Iowa. The flood stage is 15 feet; the river was at 16.6 feet at 3 a.m. yesterday and expected to rise a bit more. The Weather Service said road flooding was reported in parts of Missouri.
By late yesterday, 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 Friday evening were canceled as the thick fog rolled in.
There were also more than 400 flight cancellations at O'Hare International Airport, the nation's second busiest.
Operations returned to near normal yesterday 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 yesterday at O'Hare.
Temperatures also were rising in the Pacific Northwest, which has been pummeled by deep snow.
In Portland, Ore., a couple inches of rain was expected to wash away much of the 19 inches of snow that by one measurement had made December the city's snowiest month since January 1950.
"Once we start to see rain, it'll really melt down," Weather Service meteorologist Charles Dalton said. "It would be a good wager to say it's going to be gone by the end of the weekend."
In Seattle, meteorologist Johnny Burg was optimistic there wouldn't be any major flooding in western Washington yesterday despite warming temperatures and melting snow that feel in the week before Christmas.
In eastern Washington, 4 to 7 inches of new snow fell overnight in the Spokane area, where it began snowing a week before Christmas.
Slippery roads and cold have been blamed for at least 44 deaths this 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.