Tropical Storm Nate could reach Pittsburgh region by Tuesday
Tropical Storm Nate could provide a mixed blessing for Western Pennsylvania if it swings through the region next week.
According to some National Weather Service forecasts, the storm gaining steam off South America could drop more than 2 inches of rain in parts of the area, helping offset a September dry spell. But, as with any storm, it also could trigger localized flash flooding.
"We're so dry now, we should be able to take it," Mike Kennedy, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Moon Township, said of the potential rain from Nate. That scenario could change if the rain arrives as thunderstorms, Kennedy said, noting, "The more light to moderate, continuous kind of precipitation is what we need."
Through 8 a.m. Thursday, Kennedy reported, the year's rainfall at Pittsburgh International Airport measured 32.12 inches, almost 2 inches above normal. But, September was exceptionally dry, with just over half an inch of rain compared to the normal 3.11 inches, he said.
While it's possible Nate could turn east across the Carolinas, head out into the Atlantic Ocean and miss the region entirely, the dry weather over the last month means Nate is unlikely to cause any river flooding if it hits.
"Our water tables are still pretty normal, and we've been lowering our reservoirs to winter levels," said fellow National Weather Service meteorologist John Darnley. "We'll see maybe a couple feet of elevation on the rivers, mainly the Cheat in West Virginia, the Mon and the Yough."
Kathy Hamilton, a landscape architect with the Westmoreland Conservation District, said the organization has been working with area communities and watershed groups to lessen the negative impact of precipitation from storms.
Instead of a 100-year rainstorm that may be seen infrequently in the area, she said communities now are working to manage a more commonly encountered two-year storm — typified by 2.5 inches of rain over 24 hours.
"We want to control the two-year and five-year storms every time they happen," Hamilton said. "If we can hold back the water during those events, we're not flooding and eroding things every time it rains."
She said the Conservation District and partner organizations have completed updates of about a dozen stormwater retention basins in housing plans in Penn Township and Murrysville and near Monroeville's Gateway High School, all impacting the Turtle Creek watershed.
The basins, created several decades ago, were retrofitted with smaller outflow pipes, Hamilton explained.
"The basin is holding some of that water," she said. "So, in between storms, streams downstream will have a chance to have stabilized banks with trees, shrubs and perennials that are pulling some of that water out through their roots and slowing it down."
Other stormwater management efforts have included developing rain gardens in Mt. Pleasant and creating a buffer zone with swales between Cherry Creek and the parking lot of Westmoreland County Community College's main campus near Youngwood.
As long as it doesn't trigger flooding, any Nate-related rainfall should be welcomed by area firefighters, who have been busy battling brush fires in the region's parched fields and woods.
It's not too late for October showers to bolster the health of the region's trees and improve prospects for a colorful fall foliage display.
"The warmer, drier weather we've had can stress the plants and cause them to drop their leaves quicker," said Bob Pollock, horticulture educator with the Penn State Extension office in Indiana County.
Staff writer Matthew Santoni contributed. Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622, email@example.com or via Twitter @jhimler_news.