“The reservoirs are in good shape, able to capture spring storms,” said Jeff Hawk, spokesman for the Pittsburgh District of the Army Corps of Engineers. “Most have single-digit space used. That means they have 90 to 95 percent capacity available to catch any rain events this spring.”
There is no snowpack anywhere in the Pittsburgh district, he said, which is unusual for the higher elevations this early in the year.
“We have no concerns about a big snowmelt,” Hawk said. “The ground is fairly dry. It will be able to reduce the runoff going into waterways.”
Youghiogheny River Lake, Confluence, is one of 16 flood control projects in the Pittsburgh District. The project provides flood protection for the Youghiogheny and lower Monongahela River valleys as well as for the upper Ohio River. Since its completion in 1943, the Youghiogheny project has prevented flood damage estimated to be in excess of $526 million. Youghiogheny has the capability to store the equivalent runoff of 11 inches of precipitation from its 434-square-mile drainage area. As of Friday, the Youghiogheny reservoir had only 3 percent of flood control space being utilized.
AccuWeather.com attributes the lack of heavy snow and above-normal temperatures to a weak La Nina, a weather pattern characterized by cold water temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. Temperatures in western Pennsylvania have been above normal for the past three months.
Paul Pastelok, long-range meteorologist for AccuWeather.com, said forecasters believe it will be a mild spring in the Northeast.
“We’re issuing spring fever alerts,” he said.
Despite mild weather, there will still be some storms, especially in the Appalachians. Temperatures will flip-flop more during April and early May, with some quick cool shots arriving before significant warming occurs late in May into June, Pastelok said. With quick-moving storms, precipitation will turn out near normal.
Dave Fox, Somerset County 911 coordinator, said no severe storms are forecast for the next two weeks.
“People still need to be aware because there is always the possibility of a flash flood in our region if we get a heavy rain over a few hours,” Fox said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are partnering for National Flood Safety Awareness Week March 12-16. Floods are one of the most common hazards in the United States.
“Floods can happen at any time, anywhere across the United States, which means we all need to be prepared now,” FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said in a written statement. “There are simple steps everyone can take to prepare for flooding, such as developing a family emergency plan, having an emergency supply kit and protecting your home or business from flooding by obtaining a flood insurance policy.”
People may go to the website www.floodsmart.gov and submit their property’s address to find out the risk of flooding. Information is also available on how to prepare for flooding, what to do during a flood and steps to take to recover from a flood.
“You can find out your flood insurance options — it is not part of homeowner’s insurance,” Hawk said. “Floods don’t only occur in lowlands. Because of storm water system backups they can occur anywhere, especially where systems are antiquated and include storm water and sanitary sewer systems together.”
Flooding is the leading cause of severe weather-related deaths in the U.S., Jack Hayes, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, said in a written statement. Of the nearly 100 flood-related fatalities each year, most occur as people attempt to drive on flooded roads and the water is either too deep or moving too fast.
“Remember, if confronted with a water-covered road follow National Weather Service advice: turn around, don’t drown,” he said.