Bike Commuting in a Severe Storm

A severe storm hit Chicago unexpectedly late yesterday afternoon. Hurricane-force winds up to 77 mph, torrential rain and hail blew out windows in the Sears Tower and downed trees and powerlines. Guess where I was when this happened? Yup, riding my bike home from work.

When I heard about the approaching storm, I decided to leave work a little early to beat the storm home. Soon after I set out, rain began falling. The further I rode, the heavier the rain and winds became. I could feel a little hail. Stubbornly I pushed on – soooo close to home, I kept telling myself. Half-way home the wind and rain were so strong, I had to slow considerably. Then I rode on the pedestrian-free sidewalk in case the wind blew me over. Two-thirds of the way home, the wind and rain became literally impossible to ride in. I realized that trying to ride my bike was pretty crazy and dangerous. My stubborn nature is usually an asset when it comes to biking around Chicago, but sometimes it makes me stupid. As I locked my bike outside a (conveniently located and cozy) pub, lightening and thunder hit so closely that I screamed.

Safely in the pub, I commiserated with some other stranded folks, emptied the water out of my shoes and rung out my skirt and shirt, and ordered a pint. Nearly an hour later the rain and wind calmed down enough for me to ride the final 1.5 miles home. That’s when I took these photos. A similar storm hit around 10 pm but I was tucked safely inside.

The moral of this story is: don’t try to beat a severe storm home or at least have a cozy pub to duck into if necessary.

I have lots more to say about this day, which included the Bike to Work Week rally, David Byrne’s bicycle forum and hanging out with bikey friends.

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36 thoughts on “Bike Commuting in a Severe Storm

  1. limadean says:

    Ugh, my umbrella looks like that right now too! You reminded me to get a new one.
    The other moral of this story is that storms will always pass, so using weather as an excuse not to bike is not acceptable.

  2. Dave says:

    That happens here from time to time too – or twice a week this Spring so far :) We’ve had hail and rain thunderstorms and not quite such high winds, but up to 60mph. We’ve already tripled the average June rainfall. It really can get pretty crazy, and it’s nice to know that there are coffee shops and pubs about every 1/4 mile in any direction on my way home :)

    Glad you made it home ok!

  3. Ed L. says:

    If only I had the cozy pub to duck into. Same situation – left early from work to try and beat the storm, got caught right in the middle, tried to push on, but had to eventually duck under cover (but I ended up under the Addison Street underpass with a bunch of other hapless commuters and tourists).

    Glad you made it through without incident.

  4. maria says:

    Love those storms! So far this season I’ve been able to miss them but I’ve definitely been caught in a few.

    So glad you found refuge – good call making it a place where you could truly unwind!

  5. Ed L. says:

    It was actually kinda fun . . . until the hail started.

  6. Janice in GA says:

    Holy cow, almost the same thing happened to me earlier in the week, minus the wind and hail. I got caught in a thunderstorm where the bottom just dropped out, and it was lightninging (is that a word) like crazy. TWICE it struck so close to me that I screamed, and one of the strikes was to a transformer on a telephone pole maybe 50 yards from me.

    I finally found a spot up at the corner c-store where I waited out the worst of the rain & thunder/lightning. Then I zoomed home fastest.

    Glad you were safe too!

  7. Carolyn I. says:

    I too have tried to outrace storms. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. What I really hate is when you are riding into the headwinds, you have to pedal hard just to keep on moving. Thankfully, work is not too far from home. Alas, no pub on way to home to wait it out. That would be a good stop and make it worth waiting the storm out.

    Stormy days also make it tricky to bike around doing errands, you try your best to avoid the storms by going out at best moment before another one hits. You just hope you are lucky to avoid any that come along while you are biking around.

    Heh! I had an umbrella break during a storm that I was caught in while I was visiting New York City last year; thankfully it was a cheap tourist umbrella that I had picked up there. It was easy to replace! Your photo of the storm damaged umbrella reminded me of that.

    • Dottie says:

      Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. A good tagline for life.

      The umbrella above was abandoned in my alley. Poor sad umbrella.

  8. Steve A says:

    I hate days like that. Especially lightning.

  9. How did the Brooks saddle do with all that rain?

    • Dottie says:

      I’m not sure. I think okay. It’s already a little discolored from previous storms, but it still hasn’t broken in after over a year, so I’m kinda hoping the rain will help.

  10. Sigrid says:

    nothing like a good pub to take shelter in…
    curious to hear about the lecture, I couldn’t make the one here.

  11. b. says:

    Sorry you got caught in the storm! We in Indianapolis have gotten that same line of storms these past few weeks.

    And I’m looking forward to the David Byrne forum report–I’m reading his “Bicycle Diaries” as my next Summer Games event!

  12. Steven Vance says:

    I was doing field work, tagging an abandoned bike, when a coworker texted me to warn me of the impending storm. I sought shelter under the Lake Shore Drive overpass at Irving Park. There were other bike riders and walkers waiting too. I stood there for at least 20 minutes and left when the sidewalk started flooding. I, too, rode on a pedestrian-free sidewalk because many streets were flooding and I didn’t think drivers would be able to see me.

    • Dottie says:

      Too bad it happened on the big bike to work day! Sorry to hear you got stuck under an overpass. There were lots of bars for me stop on my commute down Lincoln, luckily.

  13. Cherilyn says:

    Glad you’re safe, you daredevil! Next time, you’ll have to race to the pub to beat the storm. :)

  14. […] ended up running with it a couple blocks until I got behind a wind-blocker and was able to ride. And I wasn’t the only one who had a hell of a commute home. This entry was posted in My Life and tagged bicycle, commuting, weather. Bookmark the permalink. […]

  15. Dottie's Gram Bev says:

    OMG!, I just now saw the news on TV about the high winds hitting Chicago and thought; “I hope Dottie wasn’t out in that riding her bike.” (which, of course, you WERE ) Glad you’re OK! :)

  16. dukiebiddle says:

    Strangely enough, I actually knew that storm was heading towards Chicago and was going to hit at rush hour. It was such a monster I took a peak at the satellite image of the storm online. I would have assumed some public address warning with tornado sirens would have been set off.

    You had tweeted that morning that you were commuting and I thought to myself “I hope she knows.” Ha!

  17. Dan says:

    Carry a shower cap for your Brooks saddle.

  18. Trisha says:

    Whether to stay or go must be a tough call with your longer commute. Glad it turned out OK!

  19. dukiebiddle says:

    My favorite trick if I’m cutting it close on a thunderstorm is to pull up the ‘Weather In Motion’ map, zoom into general route and try to guesstimate from the time markers in the top right hand corner. Doesn’t work so well with the type of storms that miraculously appear overhead when there’s 100% humidity (when the atmosphere just can’t take it anymore and explodes), but otherwise I can usually judge the track to within 5 minutes.

  20. Justin says:

    I biked through a severe storm once and had a similar experience. The winds were so strong it made forward progress disturbingly slow but what really surprised me was how HEAVY your shoes get once they become saturated with water. Like bricks! Glad you made it home safe…love your blog!

  21. Catherine says:

    Yay pub love! Just saying…one of my favorite features of my neighborhood is the pub culture. There are bars, and there are clubs, and then there are pubs. Pubs are more, to me, an extension of one’s living room where, yes, alcohol is served (and is at times the focus of activity) but really…it’s the kind of place you can duck in to get out of the rain.

    Or retreat to when the heat in your apartment breaks, or watch a sports event on television (especially if you don’t have your own), or hang out in if things are just too quiet and still at home, confident that you’ll run into friends and neighbors, or hold gatherings running the gamut from post-wedding reception after party to, sadly, wakes. I’ve done all of this at my local pub and I love it for that!

  22. Hi everyone. I was reading over your blog posts and thought you might be interested in a new and exciting event happening at the Arden Theatre in Philadelphia. It happens on July 2nd and it’s the first event of its kind! If you ride your bike to the theater, you will receive two tickets for the price of one! Bicycle parking will also be provided, so if you think about it, this is really a great deal! The following link contains everything else you need to know:

    I hope to see you there!

  23. Jeremy says:

    Could I have your permission to use your photo of bike in the rain. It would be used to accompany an article on bicycling in the rain in Pedal Press, an online newsletter put out by the Marin County Bicycle Coalition.


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