Flooding, landslide force detours

Washington County faces weather woes

February 21, 2014
Water runs swiftly in Chartiers Creek toward West McMurray Road in North Strabane Township as a blue heron passes over the stream Friday. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Rain ended before noon Friday, but in its aftermath, flooding and a landslide forced detours for motorists because of the closure of two roads in southern Washington County.

Emergency dispatch contacted the state Department of Transportation to close Ten Mile Road near Marianna, between West Bethlehem and Amwell townships, because Ten Mile Creek went over its banks. Also in West Bethlehem Township, Wherry School Road was washed out late Friday afternoon.

Those aren’t all the weather woes that will weigh the area down.

Don’t assume that this week’s warm-up is a sign that winter has gone by the wayside. The polar vortex, the phenomenon that has been the season’s unwelcome guest, is about to reappear, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Pittsburgh, said Friday.

“Winter’s going to bite us again next week,” said Rich Kane, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “Canada’s going to open up the refrigerator again, and the bottom’s going to drop out. We’re going to have more air from across the pole from Siberia, which some people call the polar vortex.”

The high speed at which the air travels isn’t conducive to moderating.

“Hopefully that will be short-lived,” Kane said. “People were enjoying the 40s and 50s, but winter’s not over.”

Some say that meteorological spring arrives March 1, but Kane isn’t one of them, based on the weather history of this area.

“I don’t feel comfortable until after the middle of March,” he said, harking back to the March 13-14, 1993, snowfall that totaled about two feet. Many people refer to it as the St. Patrick’s Day snow because of memorable images of parade units gamely marching through a near whiteout, but Pittsburgh stages its parade the weekend before the holiday unless the Irish saint’s day actually coincides with a Saturday.

There is no shortage of cold air in Canada, and although this area hasn’t experienced blizzard conditions this year, total snowfall for this winter is 57 inches so far. Pittsburgh’s average for an entire winter is 40 to 42 inches.

Rainfall, not snowfall, accompanied Friday morning’s mild weather, but fortunately it was not enough to raise fears of widespread flooding.

“We were lucky,” Kane said of the half-inch of rain that poured down Friday morning. “We dodged a bullet, just as we did after the February 2010 snow,” when more than 20 inches of the white stuff blanketed the area Feb. 5 and 6.

“Some of the snow pack probably absorbed some of (the rain), as well,” said Kane of the 3 to 4 inches of white stuff that recently blanketed the Appalachian foothills, including Washington and Greene counties.

“There are no major issues related to flooding,” said Ryan Frazee, emergency planning officer with the Washington County public safety department, recapping a weather service forecast that said the Monongahela River, barring any further significant rain, is expected to crest at 1 p.m. Saturday at 24.2 feet, well below flood stage of 28 feet at the Charleroi lock and dam.

At 8 a.m. Friday, water depth at the same site was 18.1 feet.

“Things must be going at the right speed,” Frazee said of the meltdown, adding that overnight freezing Tuesday and Wednesday slowed the speed of precipitation being absorbed by water tables.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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