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February 20, 2014

Brief thaw lifts spirits and raises flooding risks

CHICAGO (AP) — As dozens of moms and nannies pushing strollers descended on Chicago's Lincoln Park to enjoy a rare sunny, mild day, shrinking mounds of snow and growing puddles signaled that one of the cruelest winters in memory is about to get miserable in a whole different way.

"Now we are going to start the flood season," said Don Gutzmer, a contractor who was at the park's zoo for a meeting. "If all the snow melts at once, the ground can't absorb it."

Weeks of subfreezing weather are giving way, at least briefly, to temperatures in the 40s and 50s, putting many Midwestern cities on guard for flooding, roof collapses and clogged storm drains. Some areas expected a double whammy: warm, springlike air combined with heavy rains that could compound the problem and turn the big melt into a muddy, damaging mess.

In Chicago, the National Weather Service issued an advisory Wednesday warning that ice and deep snow could clog the city's drainage system. Street crews raced to clear catch basins of debris.

Officials in suburban Will County prepared to siphon warm water from a nuclear power plant's cooling pond into the Kankakee River in hopes of melting ice that can jam the channel and push floodwaters over the banks.

At the same time, emergency management authorities warned people in low-lying areas to be ready to move to higher ground, even going door-to-door to ensure families were aware of the danger. And landscaping companies' phones rang off the hook with calls from homeowners seeking teams to scoop snow onto dump trucks and haul it away before their basements flood.

"They're calling me to say, 'With this rain coming, where is that water and the snow going to go when it melts?'" said Jodey Schmiedekamp of Countryside Industries in suburban Chicago.

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