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Experts worry about possible river flood

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 8:27 p.m. CDT

MORRIS – After coping with a devastating tornado, weeks of bitter cold and historic amounts of snow, Grundy County residents may have more weather woes on the way.

Because of snow melt and rain, weather experts are increasingly concerned about the Kankakee River flooding and are encouraging residents who live along the river basin to prepare.

“We’ve got rain coming, possibly up to one inch, and really no place for it to go,” Amy Seeley, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said. “The ground is still frozen.”

Will County activated its warm water siphons Wednesday to help mitigate potential ice jams. The siphon is pumping warm water from Dresden Station cooling lake into the Kankakee River to help melt ice.

“The ultimate goal is to create an open channel,” Grundy County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Lutz said. “As the ice upstream breaks up, when it gets to this point – which is a fairly common jam up point – we want it to be able to travel on out to the Illinois River.”

Ice jams are formed when pieces of ice pool together, obstructing water and creating a dam. The water held back can cause flooding upstream, and if the ice dam suddenly breaks, flash flooding can occur downstream.

Flash floods can be incredibly dangerous and are the No. 1 cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S., according to the National Weather Service. Ice jam flooding happens very rapidly and is hard to predict so residents near the Kankakee River are urged to be vigilant.

Because of environmental restrictions, the siphons can only be used for a short period of time, which may not be enough time to adequately break up the ice, Lutz said.

“An ice jam changes everything,” Lutz said. “Right now, we’re working on the hydro side of things – just what the river will do, not including an ice jam.”

As of now, Morris residents have little to fear since the Illinois River is predicted to stay contained.

“The Illinois River near Morris will probably get very near flood stage, which is 16 feet,” Lutz said. “Basically, that floods Stratton Park, and that’s about it.”

Currently, the National Weather Service predicts a 100 percent chance of precipitation with temperatures reaching as high as 53 degrees Thursday in Morris.

Morris Mayor Richard Kopczick said the city is working hard to clear storm drains so that city streets do not flood. City crews have been working since Tuesday to clear the drains, but would appreciate help from residents.

“If residents happen to know where storm drains are near their homes, we ask them to scoop ice and snow away so the water has somewhere to go,” Kopczick said. “We’re working hard, but many hands make light work.”

Kopczick also asked residents to move cars that have been snowed in on the street as they could be blocking access to storm drains.

A more comprehensive flood outlook for this spring will be released Friday by the National Weather Service. The report should give Morris residents and others along the Illinois River a better idea of what to expect this spring as the snow continues to melt.

Lutz said flash flooding is by no means a certainty, but still encouraged residents to be ready.

“We just want everyone to be safe and prepared,” Lutz said.

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