PHOTOS: Spring storm brings heavy rain, prompts flood worries - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

PHOTOS: Heavy rain, flood worries as storm moves across Illinois

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Maybe spring is here — heavy rain, gusty winds, hail, thunderstorms and flooding are all in store for the Chicago area over the next couple of days as a strong spring storm moves through, according to the National Weather Service.

By the time skies clear, the rainfall total for the area could reach 4 inches, a weather service meteorologist said Wednesday.

The weather service issued a tornado watch, severe thunderstorm watch, and a flash flood watch for parts of the area Wednesday. The severe thunderstorm watch, covered northern and central Illinois, as well as many counties in Iowa, lasted until 5 p.m. Wednesday, and the flash flood watch will be in effect through Friday morning.

The tornado watch, added Wednesday afternoon and in effect until midnight, covers much of north central Illinois and northern Indiana south of the Kankakee River. It is approximately 65 north and south of a line from just southwest of Quincy, Ill., to northeast of Lafayette, Ind. The watch alerts residents to possible tornadoes, large hail and wind gusts of up to 70 mph.

Additionally, a gale watch -- issued when winds from 34 to 47 knots are expected -- has been issued for Lake Michigan in an area from Wilmette Harbor to Michigan City, Ind.

Wednesday morning's rain was followed by thunderstorms and more rain in the afternoon, bring along with them gusty winds. Small hail and heavy rainfall was seen late in the afternoon, with highs in the 50s, but nearer to the lake highs were forecast to reach only the upper 40s.

Wednesday night, there will be more showers and thunderstorms, along with gusty winds, as well as hail and heavy rainfall. This was expected to continue late into the night and into Thursday.

By mid-afternoon, the storms have already led to more than 300 flight cancellations, as well as delays averaging one hour or more at O'Hare International Airport, according to the city Department of Aviation. At Midway, as of about 3:30 p.m., a few flights had been canceled and airlines were reporting some delays of 30 minutes or more.

In Libertyville, flood waters virtually blanketed front yards. That's where Helen O'Gallagher was performing another periodic check in her own backyard near the Des Plaines River.

That was around noon, but in four hours, water crept up the once clear staircase leading to O'Gallagher's backyard and home. But, she said she has seen far worse.

"Up to that top step right there," O'Gallagher points out. "I don't know foot-wise but that's as high as it's been here."

Residents and businesses in the floodplain were warned that more rain and flooding is predicted. With that, comes the sandbagging.

"We do bring sandbags if necessary but so far all these years we've been here we haven't had any flooding in our area," Libertyville resident Roxane Obenauf says. "We've been here for 50 years."

To the north in Gurnee, a call for volunteers to help with sandbagging operations brought out dozens.

At the request of U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, more than 80 sailors from Naval Station Great Lakes, helped to place sandbags around local businesses and buildings to protect the community from the rising Des Plaines River.

Gurnee is preparing for the Des Plaines River flood level to reach between 10 and 10.5 feet, which is three feet above stage level. Water levels begin limiting access to major roadways at 8.5 feet, and start threatening structures at 9 feet. The water level was reported at 7.65 feet at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Back in Libertyville, Highway Commissioner Billy Morgan conducted site surveys to gage the latest rainfall numbers.

"Some of the roads have flooding crossing the road, many drains are clogged up, many areas are backed up," Highway Commissioner Billy Morgan says. "We're running at full capacity. We can't take much more rain."

But more is expected over the next two days.

"The river this morning was 7.22 feet. NOOA has said the river is going to crest at 8.2 so significant flooding around here when it gets to about 10.5 feet then you start to have serious problems," Morgan says.

High winds, showers, small hail and thunderstorms are also on the menu for Thursday, according to the weather service. It may not make the conditions easier to weather, but temperatures will be higher on Thursday, expected to be in the low 70s. South winds were expected to be 15-25 mph in the morning, increasing to 20-30 mph by early afternoon, according to the weather service. Gusts of up to 40 mph are possible.

The showers and storms will continue into Thursday night, with showers combined with thunderstorms likely in the evening, then showers likely after midnight. Lows will dip to around 40 degrees, with wind gusts up to 35 mph, the weather service says.

Widespread heavy rainfall totals are possible with this storm, according to the weather service. The storms could dump as much as 4 inches of rain in the Chicago area by the time it's over.

The gale watch is in effect from late Wednesday night through Thursday evening. "Significant" waves of 5 feet are expected, as well as occasional waves of up to 8 feet.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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