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Three Rivers Arts Festival vendors know to prep for stormy weather

| Saturday, June 6, 2015, 12:01 a.m.
Three Rivers Arts Festival visitors walk along the Point State Park pedestrian bridge during the opening day of the festival on Friday, June 5, 2015.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Three Rivers Arts Festival visitors walk along the Point State Park pedestrian bridge during the opening day of the festival on Friday, June 5, 2015.
Artist Dave DiCello pops his head out of his buttoned-up tent after taking shelter from a passing storm Friday June 5, 2015 on the first day of the Three Rivers Arts Festival at Point State Park.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Artist Dave DiCello pops his head out of his buttoned-up tent after taking shelter from a passing storm Friday June 5, 2015 on the first day of the Three Rivers Arts Festival at Point State Park.
Annette Poitau, an abstract oil painter from Oberlin, Ohio, waits for customers at Three Rivers Arts Festival on Friday, June 5, 2015.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Annette Poitau, an abstract oil painter from Oberlin, Ohio, waits for customers at Three Rivers Arts Festival on Friday, June 5, 2015.

The Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival has seen some gloomy weather in its 56 years, and this year's fest started Friday true to form.

“It was a short-enough storm that people hid a little bit and came right back in a little bit. It has to rain at some point. You're bound to get something. There was no wind today. It can get pretty windy if it storms bad enough,” said Dave Clevenger, 46, of Lafayette, Ind., who creates wood puzzles, and an arts fest veteran, who had his tent in Point State Park.

The storm brought about a quarter inch of rain to a gauge on the nearby North Shore, according to the National Weather Service, but up to an inch to an inch-and-a-half in Fayette and Westmoreland counties.

Rain is forecast for seven of the festival's 10 days, there could be rough sailing ahead.

In 2011, a microburst struck the Point, sending tents flying. Violent thunderstorms, which occur often this time of year, can be a hazard to vendors, performers and the crowds they draw.

“Today was nothing, like a baby's tear,” said 2D artist Kate Morgan from Columbus, marking her third year at the festival. “My first year I did Gateway (Center) and almost got blown away. Pittsburgh is notorious for the wind, especially along the river. I have friends who won't do it because they've heard stories or had one bad year and won't come back. But if you're prepared ahead of time it goes a long way.”

Morgan brings special 100-pound weights to hold down her tent, in Point State Park.

“I call these my Pittsburgh weights, 100 pounds in each corner,” she said.

This year's forecast for the festival — mid- to high-70s with a chance of thunderstorms some days — is normal for early June, said John Darnley, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Moon.

“It's unlikely to have 10 days of clear weather this time of year,” he said.

The transition from spring to summer weather creates strong storms as cold fronts clash with warm, muggy temperatures, he said.

This year, art festival vendors came prepared for rain and wind with heavy-duty waterproof tents.

“You want to keep your true investment — the stuff inside — safe,” said jewelry designer Amy Renee Cornelius, 43, of Pittsburgh.

Cornelius, who has been selling her handmade copper jewelry at the festival for three years, said she protects her wares with her “big girl tent” — a sturdy waterproof structure that cost about $900. Cornelius said she has weatherproofed the interior of the tent as well, with waterproof carpet and display tables, along with the 70-pound weights attached to each of the tent's corners.

Sam Foreman, 27, of Pittsburgh who has been manning the Pittsburgh Glass Center's tent for four years, said he has seen tents blow away, but the Glass Center's is outfitted with cement-filled sandbags. Under his cautious eye, not a single glass piece has shattered because of the wind.

“Mother nature's a beast,” Foreman said. “Sometimes you can't avoid it.”

Greg Knott, 42, a photographer from the D.C. area fortified his tent with extra tarp and waterproof panels.

Knott said even though this is his first year at Three Rivers, setting up shop at summer festivals along the East Coast — including one at Virginia Beach where 20 vendors' tents blew away — has taught him the importance of a solid structure.

Although early June is “a gamble in terms of isolated thunderstorms,” pushing festival dates back to July or August would come with another set of challenges, Darnley said. Temperatures creeping into the 90s can deter attendees as much as a bad storm, he said.

“In terms of picking a good time, it's a trade-off,” Darnley said.

Katherine Schaeffer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7832 or kschaeffer@tribweb.com.

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