High water, swift currents delay start of boating season in Western Pa.
The best place for boaters to enjoy two of the area's three rivers this Memorial Day weekend is the shoreline, river experts say.
Recreational boaters are warned to hold off going for a cruise on the Allegheny and Ohio because of dangerously high waters and fast currents expected through Monday.
The Monongahela River should stay well below flood levels, said Rihaan Gangat, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Moon.
Joe Palko, hydrologist with weather service, said the Allegheny River is likely to experience high levels, fast currents and a lot of debris over the weekend.
“Tuesday night and Wednesday there was near-record flooding on the Clarion River and upper parts of the Allegheny, and that's making its way down,” he said.
Palko said the Allegheny River is expected to reach 18 to 20 feet in some areas and won't begin to come back down until Sunday or Monday. A normal level for the river is between 16 and 17 feet.
“The hazards to the recreation boaters will continue all weekend,” he said.
Jeff Hawk, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, said it has 16 reservoir dams in the Pittsburgh area that they release water from after storms pass through. That release contributes to the high river levels.
“Even though it's not raining, the rivers are going to remain high,” Hawk said.
The Corps is working to maintain a river level of 18 feet near downtown Pittsburgh to avoid flooding at the Mon Wharf.
The rainwater could push up Ohio River levels by 1 to 2 feet before they recede Saturday and Sunday, according to weather service data.
Gangat said the Ohio at the New Cumberland dam in Stratton, Ohio, should climb to 21 feet late in the week, up from 20 feet on Thursday but 15 feet shy of flood stage there. The river should fall to about 18 feet there by Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Monongahela in Elizabeth Borough was at 11 feet on Thursday, 9 feet shy of flood stage, Gangat said. He said it should remain there through the weekend. At Charleroi, the Mon was at 11.5 feet on Thursday but should level off at 10 to 11 feet over the weekend, according to the weather service.
Weather outlook: Gorgeous
Out of the water, the weather forecast is promising.
Palko said the holiday weekend weather forecast shows no signs of rain.
The weather all three days is expected to be mostly sunny with highs in the 70s.
“Maybe even near 80 on Monday,” Palko said.
‘Washout' expected on Allegheny
But marinas in the Alle-Kiski Valley are already expecting a low boating turnout for the holiday. Logan's Ferry Marina in Plum and Manni's Lighthouse Landing in New Kensington will have docks open, but not many boaters are expected for the weekend.
“It'll be a washout,” said Dennis Bohatch, service manager at Manni's Lighthouse Landing.
Bohatch points to with the river's strong currents and muddy conditions.
“Most people have pretty good common sense,” he said.
Bohatch estimated the river is up 6 or 7 feet at the marina. On a marina wall that gauges the river level he said six full blocks are usually showing; and on Thursday afternoon there were only three showing.
“It's about halfway up the wall,” he said.
Blair Cessna, owner of Logan's Ferry Marina, also estimated the river is up about 6 feet at his marina.
“It came up a foot in three hours,” Cessna said of the river level on Thursday.
He expects most of the Memorial Day activity at the marina to be out of the river.
“I suggest stay on land,” he said. “Wait for the good one — Fourth of July.”
Springdale Marina won't have its docks open for the holiday because repairs still need done from damage over the winter.
“We still haven't been able to make repairs,” said Mark Mattone, owner of Sprindale Marina. “The water was too high and too swift.”
Mattone said it's not a good idea for boaters to be out on the river because if something happens, they may be stuck.
“If their boat breaks down, there's no one to go out and get them,” he said.
Boating ‘dangerous' this weekend
Palko, of the weather service, said the Allegheny's current is expected to be swift over the weekend, making boating dangerous.
“The Allegheny, especially, is going to be running between 2 and 3 mph,” he said. “For small boats, that's a very strong current.”
Hawk said when river water is swift, it's important for boaters to pay attention and watch for dams, which will be marked by warning buoys.
Hawk said these dams can be fatal if boaters don't realize they are close to one because the boat will drop about 10 feet.
“When you're boating at a fast speed it's imperative that you pay attention to warning signs and to the landmarks,” Hawk said. “It will be difficult for you to turn around.”
Hawk said it's important that people take charge of their own safety and take precautions before heading out on a river.
That includes checking the weather, river levels and reservoir release schedule. Hawk said the most important advice is to always wear a life jacket.
“If you fall in the water it at least gives people around you time to get to you,” he said. “Ninety percent of people who die in our area because of drowning weren't wearing a life jacket.”