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Potential weather woes seen

| Sunday, Feb. 23, 2003

Warmer temperatures, rain and snow melt Saturday had some weather agencies on the lookout for ice jams and potential floods.

While predictions of flooding began last week, including preparation recommendations issued by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, forecasters yesterday cited additional potential woes. Another inch or two of snow and winds possibly reaching 40 or 50 mph were on their radar last night as they eyed river levels.

And by Monday morning, area residents may be taking shovels to their sidewalks again.

The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh predicted yesterday that area rivers -- the Youghiogheny, the Allegheny, the Ohio and the Monongahela -- were all expected to crest below flood stage today. But ice jams "cause flooding," said NWS spokesman Bill Drzal. "They obstruct a river."

The NWS did issue flood watches through last night for the western Pennsylvania region. A flood watch means that flooding may occur: Keep alert and watch rivers and streams. If they rise, don't wait; move to higher ground. A flood warning means that there is actual flooding.

Yesterday, the NWS said the Monongahela River was expected to rise about 6 feet and the Ohio River as much as 6 to 8 feet through tonight. Both were expected to remain below flood stage. Only minor rises were expected on the Allegheny and Muskingum, Ohio, rivers.

Gordon Watkins knows a thing or two about the Monongahela River. He's lived within yards of the river since 1946. Surveying conditions late yesterday afternoon from his front porch in Lower Speers, Washington County, Watkins was satisfied that nothing calamitous was about to happen.

"I think we'll be all right. If nothing else, God will take care of us," Watkins said.

The longtime resident of River Avenue in the Washington County community said the river barely rose throughout the day yesterday, a development he attributed to two factors: the smaller than expected rainfall amounts the region received and the work of the Army Corps of Engineers in controlling water flows into the Monongahela River from the Cheat River in West Virginia.

"Someone is doing a very good job," Watkins said of Corps personnel.

According to Bob Leone, a Lower Speers business owner, the river held steady all day in the vicinity of Charleroi, a good sign that all was well, at least for the moment. Leone said he kept a steady eye on a tall white pole sticking up from the river not far from shore -- in the summer, the pole helps to anchor a small marina.

"See the rusted portion toward the bottom of the pole?" he asked. "Well, I've been able to see that rusted portion since early this morning. The river hasn't moved."

Russell Staup, who lives in Roscoe, within 100 feet of the river, agreed that conditions were satisfactory. A former director of emergency services in his community, Staup reported that he told several residents who called his house yesterday that "everything was going to be fine."

"I'm not worried," said his wife, Jessie.

Bob Quigley, a clerk at the Keystone Amoco gas station in Charleroi, said motorists checked out conditions on nearby Maple Creek all day yesterday. Heavy flows of water from the creek into the Monongahela River always suggests the possibility of flooding in this portion of the borough.

Quigley said he took a look at the creek several times and found nothing alarming. "I think we'll be safe," he said.

AccuWeather meteorologist Paul Pastelok said the sun could come out later today, vaporizing most overnight snow accumulation.

"But it will get colder," he said. "Temperatures will fall into the upper teens Sunday night."

And another system will move more snow in "before daybreak" Monday, "definitely a shoveling amount, possibly up to four inches," Pastelok said.

Predicted high winds carry the potential for some power outages. Included among PEMA's list of disaster supplies to have on hand were flashlights and extra batteries, emergency food and water, a non-electric can opener and essential medicines.

American Red Cross officials also were keeping an eye on the rivers' rise last night.

Barbara Smith, director of emergency services for the Westmoreland County chapter, said "facility agreements" are already in place.

Should the need arise, she said, "We are 24/7 prepared."

The facilities, she said, could be used as service centers or shelters.

"Once we are notified (through an emergency management station), we alert the disaster assistance team. Volunteers come together, do damage assessments, open a shelter."

In that instance, she said, public service announcements would be broadcast, and emergency management workers in the affected areas would be able to direct anyone needing assistance.

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