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Valley residents had mixed bag of weather during 1982s 'freeze'

| Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, 12:06 a.m.

Much of the attention being given to the bone-chilling weather conditions in the Mon Valley these days has focused on the past.

“The worst … since 1982” is how some forecasters have referred to the near-zero temperatures and sub-freezing wind chill factors that are expected to continue into the coming week.

It was cold – no question about that – 32 years ago. But the area experienced a variety of experiences with Old Man Winter and Mother Nature.

Although the area received a brief respite from the brutal cold over the weekend, in the end a one-two punch of ice and snow created more problems for winter-weary residents as the new week began on Monday, January 25.

Saturday's temperatures climbed into the low 40s during day and a good bit of the lingering snow that had blanketed the area for several days melted. But it was back to “normal” Saturday night as the thermometer plunged into single digits in some places. Snow fell and people in the Mon Valley were greeted Sunday morning with pretty much the same conditions they'd had the past few weekends.

The Valley Independent reported that “bone-numbing temperatures and gusting winds created wind chill factors far below zero.”

And as the forecasters are emphasizing today, the newspaper said “things aren't going to get much better, either” in the 1982 outlook.

The National Weather Service said it would be cold with snow flurries Monday night and a low of five above zero. Partly sunny skies were anticipated for Tuesday but highs would be only in the mid-teens.

The extended forecast for Wednesday through Friday carried much of the same, predicting very cold temperatures early Wednesday then partly sunny and seasonable conditions by afternoon. It called for lows between 5 and 10 and highs from 25 to 25. There was a chance of snow or mixed rain and snow Thursday, with lows 15 to 25 and highs 25 to 35.

Snow flurries loomed for Friday, with lows between 5 and 15 above zero and highs 20 to 30.

Compared to other areas of western Pennsylvania, the Mon Valley did catch a lucky break the weekend of January 22-23-24 1982.

All the rain that fell Friday night “could have been snow or worse, freezing grain,” The Valley Independent noted on Saturday. “Only a few degrees in temperatures made the difference.”

Elsewhere, some parts of eastern Westmoreland County and some parts of Fayette County experienced heavy doses of freezing rain, so bad that electric utility crews couldn't keep ahead of the reports of falling power lines an trees downed by the ice storm. West Penn Power crews had problems getting to the affected areas because of the freezing rain and the ice it created and because of downed trees over power lines.

The rain that began falling in the Valley around 6 p.m. Friday did very little damage in the area, although there were some reports of minor power outages.

It did created hazardous driving conditions in some remote areas and on secondary roads in the Valley, but the most part the temperatures stayed above freezing. Some sidewalks were slick in spots.

There was a report Monday morning that some ice in a creek in the Van Voorhis area had broken and flooded an area in with a woman was living. Firefighters in the Monongahela area were called to assist in getting the woman from her home which had been threatened by the backup water.

A minor flood watch was in effect in the Mon Valley on Monday. Officials were looking at low spots along the Monongahela River, “places traditionally flooded after heavy rains and during ice breaks” the newspaper reported. One of those spots was the Pigeon Creek area near Route 481 where Monongahela Police and PennDOT work crews were monitoring the water as it edged toward the road.

Officials in the Fayette City area also were keeping close watch on low spots where Route 906 is often covered by water, making it necessary for rerouting traffic.

As bitter as the conditions were in 1982, they were worse 19 years earlier – on Thursday, Jan. 24, 1963 – The Valley Independent pointed out in a sidebar to its coverage of the '82 situation.

That was the day Gus Brickner of Charleroi set a world record for cold water swimming.

“Now established in the Guinness Book of World Records, Brickner swam in the Monongahela River in Dunlevy when the air temperature was at 16 below zero,” the newspaper recalled. “W.T. Parker of the Office of the surgeon General in Washington, D.C. sent Brickner a wind chill factor chart which revealed the chill factor on his exposed body as he emerged from the ice was minus-65 degrees. Winds were gusting at 40 miles per hour when Brickner cracked the ice and entered the water.”

The 1963 conditions locked the Mon Valley in a deep freeze that showed a January 24 reading of 12 degrees below zero at U.S. Lock 4, Monessen.

That stretch of getting the cold shoulder from Old Man Winter ran for several more days.

The brutal conditions of 1982 continued into early February before area residents received a break and warmer temperatures returned.

The outlook for the current weather patterns is pretty much the same. Which is why the forecasters, although armed with far more modern technology to predict what we can expect, may be calling for another case of déjà vu all over again.

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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