For some 20,000 cyclists expecting to bike for a cause Sunday on Lake Shore Drive, slippery conditions were a possibility as one of Chicago's rainiest springs neared a close.
"The weather forecast kept changing over the last couple of days," said Ebonne Just, a spokeswoman for the annual MB Bike the Drive event, which allows cyclists to ride on Lake Shore Drive, absent cars, along Lake Michigan's shoreline. Scattered showers were expected but didn't materialize, and the morning weather turned out to be perfect.
But within hours of the end of the event, it was raining — again — in the Chicago area, a pattern that has made this spring one of the most rainy in nearly 150 years, according to meteorologists at the National Weather Service.
From March 1to May 27, Chicago has seen 13.72 inches of precipitation, which is 4.64 inches higher than normal, or what is called "climatological normal," said Ricky Castro, a meteorologist at the Romeoville-based weather service.
The numbers, which relate to precipitation data at O'Hare International Airport, are for rain and snow from March 1 to the end of May.
If it doesn't get any wetter by the end of this month, the 13.72 inches would rank 14th on the list of spring precipitation seasons, dating to 1871, Castro said.
"While it is not in the Top 10, it's pretty notable," he said. "This spring has been quite wet overall."
Data from the weather service also show that the rainiest season prior to spring 2017 was in 1970, when Chicago got 13.94 inches of precipitation.
The rainiest spring was in 1983, when Chicago got 17.51 inches of precipitation. The driest spring was in 1887, when Chicago got 2.73 inches of precipitation.Alyssa Pointer / Chicago Tribune
A man walks across the Hubbard Street Bridge during a rainy March 30, 2017, in Chicago. Rain is expected throughout the day.
A man walks across the Hubbard Street Bridge during a rainy March 30, 2017, in Chicago. Rain is expected throughout the day.(Alyssa Pointer / Chicago Tribune)
Meteorologists said the heavy precipitation relates to active weather patterns sweeping over the Chicago region, including frequent thunderstorms that produce heavier rainfall, not just a few sprinkles.
Frequent and heavy rainfall can be problematic for plants, crops and gardens. Memorial Day in the Chicago area has been a popular planting time, and garden centers and large chains such as Home Depot have been swamped this holiday weekend as shoppers bought everything from planting soil to flowers and vegetables.
At the Chicago Botanic Garden, horticulture director Tim Johnson said the heavy rain has consequences.
"The biggest thing I've seen is the frustration of getting the work done when soil conditions are wet. ... It has put us behind on projects such as planting trees." And extensive periods of rain can also cause diseases in some plants, Johnson said.
On the positive side, he said, "I think we're probably going to see, in this kind of rainy weather, that plants will grow more."
As for cyclists, their day wasn't spoiled by the rain after all.
Good luck materialized because an area of showers and thunderstorms that had moved over the far northwestern suburbs just faded out, leaving Chicago clear and sunny, according to Castro at the weather service.
The Bike the Drive fundraising event was hosted by MB Financial Bank and the nonprofit Active Transportation Alliance, which works to improve biking, walking and public transportation.
The nonprofit's goal is to reduce car crashes by getting around on foot, bike and public transportation, creating safer streets and more bike lanes and trails, according to the group.
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