Last week’s torrential rains were devastating to Chicago-area property owners. But I’ve seen worse. I don’t remember much about it because I was a newborn, but a rainstorm in mid-October 1954 dumped 12 inches of rain in 48 hours. It remains the greatest rainfall in the history of this region. It also played a part in bringing me into this world.
When I asked my mother how I was born, she told me I was born during a thunderstorm. I doubted her word at first. I was born in October, when thunderstorms are not that common. Was she confusing me with one of the other eight births?
No, she said a tropical storm hit Florida and it caused a drop in barometric pressure in Chicago. She said this drop caused pregnant women to go into labor. That is why hospitals in Chicago were suddenly overrun with pregnant women.
St. Anne Hospital was where my mom’s obstetrician was on staff. My dad drove her there using Augusta Boulevard, because it had the most bumps, which could speed the birth process. My mom’s water broke during the drive. When they got to the hospital, the delivery room was so busy, I was almost born in a waiting room.
Meanwhile, our basement in Brookfield was filled with several feet of water. Our black Labrador, appropriately named Dory, was floating on top of a table. This unprecedented storm flooded basements across the region and caused $25 million in damage.
At the height of storm, the Chicago River threatened to overflow. The river was normally 3 feet below the level of Lake Michigan. The heavy rain caused the river to rise four feet above the lake. This forced engineers to open the lock gates for the first time in 54 years. Polluted water from the river endangered the city’s principal source of drinking water.
We endangered it again last week. Engineers opened the locks to relieve the flooding and allowed over a billion gallons of bacteria-laced waste to enter the lake. The sluice gate from the North Shore Channel was also opened. These events have become more common in recent years.
For example, our house on Beloit hadn’t flooded in 100 years. We still took extra measures by installing a sump pump and standpipes. Nevertheless, the basement flooded two summers in a row. It was demoralizing because we had finished it with drywall and carpeting. It was relatively clean water but we still had to break out the bleach and scrub everything down.
The Deep Tunnel (TARP) was supposed to prevent flooding in basements and discharges into the lake. It was started in 1975 and has cost $4 billion so far. The tunnels have been mostly completed, but we’re still waiting for the reservoirs to be used to full capacity. This means that every rainfall over 2.5 inches forces discharges into the lake and flooding.
That is why many cities are moving away from massive flood control projects and embracing smaller neighborhood-scale improvements. Forest Park is separating sewer and storm water pipes one block at a time. We’re installing permeable pavers in alleys. We even purchased a truck dedicated to clearing catch basins. The village helps homeowners pay for check valves. Homeowners also purchase rain barrels to catch runoff from roofs.
But back to my birth. Hospitals do see an increase in deliveries during periods of low barometric pressure. However, experts still dismiss this as an “old wives tale” because they can’t prove a direct connection between weather conditions and the onset of labor.
Are they calling my mom a liar?