Mild Winter Will Reduce Risk of Flooding in Western Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
10 March 2012
By Rachel Weaver

A mild winter will reduce the risk of flooding in Western Pennsylvania communities this spring and summer, the National Weather Service reported on Friday.

"It's great news if it comes true," said Chief Jeff Harbin, Carnegie Borough manager and head of the town's police force.

Carnegie was hard-hit when Hurricane Ivan came through the region in 2004, and again two years ago when the Campbells Run Watershed flooded.

"It's always still in the back of your mind as far as being prepared as much as you can," Harbin said.

During a flood assessment conference yesterday on the Upper Ohio River Basin, the weather service and officials with the Pittsburgh District of the Army Corps of Engineers attributed the lack of heavy precipitation and above-normal temperatures experienced locally to a weak La Niña, a weather pattern characterized by unusually cold water temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.

Temperatures in Western Pennsylvania have been above normal for the past three months, whereas last winter, both December and January were below normal.

"We're starting out above normal and will trend to more normal temperatures and drier conditions as we move into summer," said Bill Drzal, hydrologist with the National Weather Service. Drzal said that he does not foresee those conditions leading to a drought.

There has been no significant impact on the region's waterways from snowpacks, Drzal said.

"Last year, most of January and the late part of winter and spring was very wet," he said. "This winter was very different, with warmer temperatures."

The Upper Ohio River Basin is spread over five states and 26,000 square miles. It includes 16 flood damage reduction reservoirs, 23 navigation locks and dams and 83 local protection projects. There are nearly 230,000 sandbags and 650 linear feet of "Hesco baskets" -- collapsible wire-and-fabric containers that can be filled with sand -- throughout the region for emergency management, said T.J. Fichera, emergency management chief for the corps' Pittsburgh District.

After the 2010 flood, the corps began a stream mediation project along Campbells Run in Carnegie, starting at the Morrow Avenue Bridge and continuing to where it empties into Chartiers Creek. Borough officials are in the process of securing funding to conduct a study of the rest of the watershed, Harbin said.

There is a supply of sandbags at Carnegie's public works garage. But Harbin said he knows no level of preparation can combat Mother Nature entirely.

"When that water comes up over the banks, there's not much you can do," he said.

Rachel Weaver can be reached at or 412-320-7948.