a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A flood on the Mon is anyone's guess

The flood gauge in Belle Vernon, Pa., as the Monongahela River was on the rise this afternoon. (Scott Beveridge photo)

ALONG THE MONONGAHELA RIVER, Pa. – Over the last few days, as rain melted a massive snowmelt in the headwaters of the Monongahela River, the flooding forecast has been all over board.

The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh issued flood warnings for the Mon in Charleroi, Pa., which have ranged from expectations of minor damages to major problems and back to nothing to be of concern by Sunday. In the service’s defense, it has no way of knowing how the river will behave until this rain passes.

The forecast was pulled back as the region missed heavy rain that threatened to turn February’s historic snowfall known as Stormageddon into Floodageddon.

This new storm and strong winds hit the Northeast coast hard today, knocking out power more than 450,000 customers in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, the 2-feet of snow that fell here in the hinterlands last month killed the power to nearly half as customers, but that didn’t make headlines beyond these borders.

And tonight, as we Appalachians sit on pins and needles wondering what tomorrow will bring on the Mon, the weather service’s Web site with the latest local flooding forecasts has crashed. It is either getting too much traffic or possibly relying on a Web guru near Philadelphia whose office has lost its electricity.

That’s OK because those of us in southwestern Pennsylvania have grown accustomed to being left in the dark, and relying on each other in times of need.

That said, many people around here have been discussing the other big floods along the Mon and attempting to recall the dates, crests and records.

Here is the list, thanks to a cached Web copy of that dead link to the weather service’s current flooding forecast:

Flood categories in feet at Charleroi:

Major flood stage: 35
Moderate flood stage: 31
Flood stage: 28

Historic crests
1. Nov. 5, 1985 – 42.7
2. March 9, 1967 - 41.1
3. March 18, 1936 – 39.9
4. Jan. 20, 1996 – 39.8
5. March 5, 1963 – 39.4
6. June 4, 1941 – 39.2
7. Feb. 19, 2000 – 38.5
8. Oct. 16, 1954 – 38
9. Aug. 6, 1956 – 37.2
10. March 28, 1963 – 36.1

(It ended up being a significant flood that wasn't - with a 25.3 foot crest Sunday morning in Charleroi)

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