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Weekend storms punctuate one of soggiest Julys on record

| Monday, July 31, 2017, 5:57 p.m.
Dennis Guard, 78, of St. Michaels, Md., paints the scenery along the swollen Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle, Fayette County, on Monday, July 31, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Dennis Guard, 78, of St. Michaels, Md., paints the scenery along the swollen Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle, Fayette County, on Monday, July 31, 2017.

People across the region worked Monday to recover from flooding resulting from weekend storms that punctuated one of the soggiest Julys on record.

For the month, 6.42 inches of rain fell in Pittsburgh, according to the National Weather Service's rain gauge at Pittsburgh International Airport. That ranked as the region's 17th-wettest July since 1838, and the soggiest since 7.32 inches fell in July 2012, according to weather agency records.

"It was significantly above normal," National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Green said, adding July's rainfall total was about 2.5 inches higher than the average for the month.

More than 2 inches of rain fell between Thursday and Saturday, resulting in flooding and dangerously strong currents on the region's rivers that continued into Monday.

Heavy currents sank and smashed a houseboat that had been converted into a floating ice cream shop at South Side Marina in Pittsburgh. Its owners had been gearing up for a busy weekend during the upcoming Three Rivers Regatta.

The Sugar and Spice Ice Cream boat, an offshoot of the long-tenured Baldwin Borough ice cream shop, was docked at the South Side Marina on Saturday when fast currents dragged one side of the boat down and quickly sank it, said Kevin Heenan, who co-owned the boat with his wife, Lori.

As the boat sank, the current battered it against the docks, smashing the cabin with its freezers, coolers and dipping cabinets, he said. The remains of the boat washed downstream and lodged against another part of the marina.

"You could see it start to take on water and you just realized, you need to walk away now. Within not even a minute, (the current) just took it down," Heenan said.

Heenan said his boat was among several that sunk at the South Side Marina over the weekend.

Ivan Ryan, assistant manager at Fox Chapel Marine Sales and Service, which operates the marina, said the currents upended and sank several pontoons and other small boats docked there. The cost of the damage is not yet known.

Gwynn Reiley of New Brighton-based Marion Hill Associates said the company will be handling a salvage effort Tuesday. Diving crews will attempt to right and raise the vessels by rigging them with inflatable airbags. Some boats may need to be repaired or scrapped, while less-damaged ones will only need to be pumped free of excess water.

Reiley said at least six boats are underwater.

Crews cleaned mud and debris left by flooding along Downtown Pittsburgh's waterfronts.

Point State Park manager Jake Weiland said trucks with pressure-washers were blasting mud and debris off the lowest levels of the riverwalk.

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources closed the riverwalk Sunday as the surrounding waters crested at 20.29 feet, according to the National Weather Service. The water level had fallen to 16.5 feet by Monday afternoon, about an inch higher than the normal pool at the Point, the agency reported.

The Mon Wharf parking lots were closed by flooding. The Pittsburgh Parking Authority said Monday afternoon that more than 250 of the wharf's 458 spaces would reopen Tuesday.

Floodwaters placed six of the Army Corps of Engineers' nine locks on the Monongahela River out of service. Four of the facilities were back up and running by Monday afternoon, and crews were working to bring the remaining two — Lock and Dam 3 at Elizabeth and Lock and Dam 4 at Charleroi — back online, said Army Corps spokesman Jeff Hawk.

The swollen Monongahela River was flowing at the Elizabeth locks and dam at 39,800 cubic feet per second early Monday afternoon, up from a normal flow of 2,500 cubic feet per second, Hawk said. He warned river users that strong currents displaced many buoys marking restricted areas along the river.

While flooding closed Sandcastle Water Park in West Homestead on Monday, four of the region's whitewater raft outfitters — White Water Adventurers, Laurel Highlands, Ohiopyle Trading Post and Ohiopyle Wilderness Voyageurs — operated at Ohiopyle State Park despite higher water than usual.

With a seasonal average of 1 foot, 8 inches on the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle, this season has seen only a handful of days with water that low. After heavy storms last week, Saturday's water levels reached above 10 feet.

Matthew Santoni and Matthew Guerry are Tribune-Review staff writers.

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