DECATUR — After heavy rainfall hit Decatur hard for most of Friday, the National Weather Service in Lincoln said Central Illinois residents should be prepared for more of the same on today and Sunday.
Friday's rain led to several flash floods, road closures and event cancellations throughout the region. Ernie Goetsch, a meteorologist with the weather service, said the weekend's wet weather will be courtesy of Tropical Storm Gordon along the Gulf Coast. Remnants of the storm will make their way to Central Illinois, bringing multiple periods of heavy rain.
A flash flood watch will be in effect for several counties — including Macon, DeWitt, Effingham, Shelby and Moultrie, until Sunday morning. The greatest chances for flooding will be areas that experience large amounts of rain falling quickly multiple times or even one time, Goetsch said.
“Sometimes, if it comes down slow enough we can handle a lot of rain, but in this situation it is going to be a prolonged period of heavy rains,” he said.
Randy Callison, the city's forestry and property maintenance supervisor, said Friday that barricades were to be put up at locations that are prone to flooding — including the North Main Street underpass just south of East Green Street and the underpass at South Oakland Avenue and West Main Street near Millikin University.
The rain had started to slow around 3:45 p.m., Callison said, allowing some flooded roadways time to drain.
"People who have grown up and lived here know where all the bad places are," he said.
The best advice for flash flooding is to stay away from flooded roads, Goetsch said. This is the most dangerous place to be because cars can be swept away with the water.
“Most deaths occur from flash flooding from driving into flooded roadways, so turn around don’t drown,” he said. “That is the best thing to do. If you see water over the road, turn around.”
In addition to certain roadways, the Macon County Conservation District closed Sand Creek Conservation Area and the southern half of Fort Daniel on Friday due to the heavy rain. Events like Golf Fore Kids' Sake, the Special Olympics Outdoor Sports Festival and the Fido Scurry 5K were canceled because of the soggy conditions.
Sandra Lindberg said she had been keeping close watch of weather radars in recent days.
Lindberg is the chair of Sustain Our Natural Areas, a sub-committee of the non-profit Community Environmental Council of Macon County. SONA planned to host its Rise for Climate March today, but canceled it and turned it into an indoor rally because of the dour forecast.
Decatur is one of many communities around the nation participating in Rise for Climate events, which aim to address climate change issues and educate citizens on how they can help combat it locally. The event begins at 2 p.m. at the Old King's Orchard Community Center, 815 N. Church St.
Lindberg said she hoped that the event could "skate through" the rain, but there was no such luck. Instead, she considers the weather to be a clear sign of the necessity of the Rise for Climate event.
"We were talking about the fact that this (the heavy rain) is a climate change event," Lindberg said. "This storm and a number of storms that we've been getting in the area are fallout from the hurricanes in the Gulf, and they're increasing. Even though it's sad that we don't get to march, this illustrates why we're having the rally."
While the floods in Decatur provided an inconvenience for commuters, Tammy Esposito said they're a far cray from the flooding residents who live near the Mississippi River and Illinois River experience.
“A lot of what we experience here is water-covered roadways in low lying areas, street flooding in town,” said Esposito, assistant Macon County Emergency Management Agency manager. “When we have the volume of water that is expected, it is slow to drain.”
Residents may experience basement flooding during the heavy rain, Esposito said, and appliances in basements or other electronic items can create an electrocution risk for people in the water, she said.
Heavy rains can add extra work for the response system because cars get stuck in flooded roadways and need assistance, Esposito said. As little as 2 feet of water can pick up a car and sweep it with the current, she said.
The emergency management team keeps a close eye on rainfall amounts, she said. Emergency management works with the city of Decatur Public Works Department and the Macon County Highway Department to know the status or roads throughout the county. Stevens Creek and the Sangamon River are prone to flooding, Esposito said, and underpasses also fill with water.
But flooding can occur anywhere, she added.
“It is a wait-and-see thing, because you don’t know exactly where your problems are going to end up being,” Esposito said. “It could rain really hard in Forsyth and not at all in Macon.”
Rural roads are especially dangerous, because the roads are more likely to be washed out by heavy rains, Esposito said. Water sits on country roads and makes it impossible to tell if a road is intact or if it has holes or is eroded, she said.
“It can be very dangerous,” she said. “We’ve had times where people have driven their trucks into a flooded way, and then there is a hole they ended up in.”
Callison said that anyone who comes across a flooded roadway or underpass in the city should contact Decatur police at its non-emergency number, (217) 424-2711. Echoing Goetsch, he said the most important thing to remember is to just drive away instead of going through the water.
Driving through the water just isn't worth it, he said.
If not, "you'll end up either risking your life or having to call a tow truck," Callison said.