a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Downed trees add to flooding concerns

A downed tree at the foot of Power Street in Webster, Pa., after a storm two weeks ago dropped as much as 2 feet of snow on southwestern Pennsylvania. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

Trees took the brunt of the big storm this month, as so many of them have been uprooted under the weight of the heavy snow and ice.

Many of them still are leaning across power lines, appearing as if another inch or two of fresh snow would lead to more outages. More than two weeks after Stormageddon, the roads are still like obstacle courses with tree braches sticking out of the snowplow mounds.

But the toppled birch, maple and weeping willow trees along the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers, which spill into the Ohio, are causing even greater concerns if a major flood develops during a quick thaw accompanied by rain. A river rushing with big trees would have devastating consequences on everything in their wake, and could clog and lead to worse flooding.

The US Army Corps of Engineers said Friday it is “fighting a flood” that has the potential of putting the Three Rivers in downtown Pittsburgh 25 feet of flood stage. It would be a record cresting along the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio rivers. A perfect storm could be in the making with more than 50 inches of snow in the mountains and at least 7 ½ inches of rain in the snow pack.

High water is a concern as far downstream as St. Paul, Minn., where there is a 90 percent chance the Mississippi will flood because of severe winter weather, the Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported Friday.

“In many places, flooding is almost a sure bet, forecasters said, with a substantial possibility of severe or record levels,” the newspaper said.

The following are quotes reporters at the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa., gathered last week about the threat of high water:

"It's going to take a miracle to get rid of this snow without a flood," said Bill Drzal, a meteorologist and hydrologist for the Weather Service in Pittsburgh.

"We are praying for a slow warm-up, but there is so much water in the snow," said Jeff Yates, public safety director in Washington County.

“There is the potential it could be one of the worst,” said Jeff Hawk, corps spokesman in Pittsburgh.

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