Heavy Rain in Chicago on July 23

Chicago has a new all-time daily record rainfall when 6.86 inches fell during the early morning hours of Saturday, July 23, 2011, at O’Hare airport. The previous daily record was 6.64 inches set on September 13, 2008 (a little less than three years ago).
Even more amazing, the 6.86 inches of rain fell in slightly over three hours from 1 to 3 a.m. According to the ISWS Bulletin 70, the so-called 100-year, 3-hour storm for the Chicago area is 4.85 inches. Obviously, this storm far exceeded that. On a side note, the phrase “100-year storm” is a misnomer because it implies that you have a space of 100 years between storms. The slightly better phrase is “a once in 100 year return period on average“.  It’s best to think of it as the size of storm with a 1% chance of occurrence in any given year.
The folks at the Iowa Environmental Mesonet of the Iowa State University Department of Agronomy produced an amazing plot of the rainfall at O’Hare using 1-minute data. The black line is the hourly rate over 1 minute (rainfall rate in inches/hour). The green line is the hourly rate over 15 minutes. The red line is the hourly rate over 60 minutes. The blue line is the accumulated rainfall over time. The point of the 1-minute and 15-minute lines is to show that it was not a steady rain but contained several short periods with tremendous rain rates. One of those minutes exceeded 8 inches per hour (o.14 inches in one minute X 60 minutes = 8.4 inches/hour).
You can read more about the July 23 event at the Chicago NWS office link. Several CoCoRaHS observers had amounts that were even higher than O’Hare including two Arlington Heights observers with 7.25 inches (IL-CK-87) and 7.14 inches (IL-CK-81), one in Des Plaines (IL-CK46) with 7.24 inches, and one in Elks Grove Village (IL-CK-63) with 7.17 inches.

July 23 2011 Chicago rainfall
Plot of the 1-minute, 15-minute, and 1-hour rainfall rates and accumulated rainfall for the record July 23, 2011, rainfall in Chicago at O'Hare Airport. Figure courtesy of Daryl Herzmann, Iowa Environmental Mesonet. Click to enlarge.

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