CHICAGO (Reuters) - Overnight rains dumped nearly 7 inches of rain on Chicago early Saturday, breaking a record for the city, canceling flights, and causing parts of highways and train lines to shut down.
Meanwhile east coast and central states continued to steam in oppressive heat, though some relief is expected Sunday and Monday.
The rainfall measured at O’Hare International Airport beat all Chicago records for the wettest calendar day, at 6.86 inches, over the last record of 6.65 inches on September 13, 2008, according to the National Weather Service.
Airlines at O’Hare canceled over 100 flights, according to the city’s aviation department.
The rain caused Chicago’s Lake Michigan beaches to close for swimming after the area’s water reclamation district opened locks at two locations, risking a possible release of stormwater and sewage into the lake, according to the Chicago Park District.
The storm also knocked out power for tens of thousands of ComEd customers.
While rains have closed parts of highway lanes in the Chicago area before, Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Guy Tridgell said there had been “nothing this widespread in quite some time.”
“Virtually every part of the system was touched,” said Tridgell. “It was literally a case of too much water in a short time period for the storm sewers to handle.”
City personnel responded to multiple reports of motorists stranded in vehicles caught in fast-moving flood water, according to the city’s Office of Emergency Management. A Chicago Fire Department boat rescued two stranded truckers on I-57.
The storm also closed parts of Chicago Transit Authority lines, due to water on tracks, according to CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis.
While Chicago dealt with too much water, Arkansas was preparing for forest fires due to drought. Two single-engine air tankers that can carry up to 560 gallons of water are on standby in Hot Springs, Ark., which is near several national forests. The second one arrived Saturday.
“Areas in the state have not received any significant rainfall for a couple of months,” said Don McBride, Assistant State Forester-Protection, in a statement. Since June 1, Arkansas Forestry Commission crews have suppressed 364 wildfires.
Excessive heat warnings and heat advisories were in effect Saturday for much of the central U.S. and Ohio Valley, as well as areas from the eastern Carolinas northward into New York City, according to NWS.
High temperatures, combined with humidity, were expected to create heat index values of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit during the afternoon, the NWS said. On Friday, all-time record highs were set in Newark, N.J. at 108 degrees and Dulles, Va. at 105 degrees.
The heat roasted the Midwest for nearly a week, and is potentially responsible for 34 deaths in ten states, according to NWS.
If the temperature at Raleigh-Durham International Airport exceeds 100 degrees Sunday — the predicted high is 101 — it will be the hottest five days since records were first kept at the airport in 1944, said Katie Roussy, meteorologist with the NWS’s Raleigh office.
“It’s not completely out of the realm to see temperatures like this, but it’s unusual to see this many days of 100-plus in a row,” she said.
The American Red Cross is staffing a cooling station in Charlotte to provide drinks and snacks. About 200 people visited the station Friday.
“A lot of these folks have no place to go,” said Craig Jeske of the Red Cross. “We provide a cool environment, a place to get in and out of the hot weather.
NWS meteorologist Heather Sheffield in Washington, D.C. said the area expected a weak cold front coming through Sunday through Monday, “which will give us some relief, but not much.”
Writing by Mary Wisniewski, with additional reporting by Jim Brumm, Suzi Parker and Ned Barnett; Editing by Tim Gaynor