Western Pa. wakes up to flooding from heavy overnight storms
David Dunlap’s wife, Dianne, nudged him awake just before 5 a.m. Monday to tell him Loyalhanna Creek had overflowed its banks.
“Panic always sets in at first … then it’s back to the (flood) drill all over again,” he said.
“It just starts percolating up through the basement floor. … You turn on the pumps and then start putting stuff up on the shelves. The sad part is you always forget something and it’s ruined,” said Dunlap, who lives in the flood-prone Darlington area of Ligonier Township.
Dunlap was one of many in the region cleaning up Monday. A series of violent storms rumbled through overnight, flooding roads and basements, felling trees and knocking out power to thousands. No injuries were reported.
The storms sent water gushing over portions of Routes 51, 30 and 119 and spurred a brief tornado scare in parts of Westmoreland and Allegheny counties — including a reported sighting of a funnel in Elizabeth Township.
Lee Hendricks of the National Weather Service in Moon said there was no official report of a tornado touching down.
The “light show” from the storms was impressive, Hendricks said. Starting at 4 p.m., 517 lightning strikes and 4,537 cloud flashes were recorded in one hour over Southwestern Pennsylvania.
“It didn’t get any better,” Hendricks said.
By 10 p.m., the number of lightning strikes jumped to 2,500 and cloud flashes hit 19,000.
Six homes in Cranberry were struck by lightning, fire officials there said. One caught fire, resulting in some damage to the attic.
Some drivers heading to work in the morning had to change their routes because of high water, fallen trees and rock slides.
Rainfall totals in Westmoreland and Fayette counties ranged from 1.56 inches in Connellsville to 4 inches in Latrobe, according to the weather service. In Allegheny County, the amount ranged from 1.77 inches in Hampton to 3.59 inches in Green Tree.
“It’s not rare,” Hendricks said. “… We’ll probably get two or three events this summer like that,” he said.
PennDOT used snowplows to clear debris from roads in Unity and other areas where small streams swelled with rushing water strong enough to sweep away large rocks.
Route 119 at the busy Willow Crossing intersection in Hempfield was closed in both directions because of high water, and Westmoreland County Community College campus near Youngwood closed because some roads were impassable.
PennDOT crews worked until nearly noon to clear fallen trees and rocks that forced the closing of a 3-mile stretch of Route 30 between Kingston Dam and the Longbridge section of Ligonier Township, said police Chief Michael Matrunics.
He spoke as he placed flares along Idlewild Hill Road near Idlewild Park to stop traffic from passing through high waters of Loyalhanna Creek.
“We’re hoping the rain holds off to allow the waters to recede a little bit,” he said.
Matrunics cited several motorists for ignoring closure signs on Peoples Road. He cautioned drivers not to pass through standing water, to obey road closure signs and to call 911 if they see fallen trees or wires.
Mark Sawinski, whose father, Stanley, recently invested several thousand dollars improving the basement of their Bridge Avenue residence in Hempfield, was among many caught off-guard by the heavy rain.
“We just installed a finished basement. We have to rip out all the carpet and replace all the cabinets. … I’d say there is $8,000 to $9,000 damage,” he said.
The area last flooded in 2009, and the problems stem “from poor drainage off Route 30,” Sawinski said.
“The grate maintained by the township constantly clogs up, causing the flooding. We had at least 3 feet of water on the street and 14 to 16 inches in the basement. … Everyone’s fighting with everyone and pointing the finger,” he said.
Darryl Celesnick of Armbrust Road in Hempfield said dead limbs and shrubs damming up Sewickley Creek left him with 2 feet of water in his basement.
“They have to clean up this creek or we’re going to get flooded forever,” he said.
Widespread basement flooding was reported from Youngwood to Latrobe to Unity.
In northern Westmoreland, the rain may have caused a partial roof collapse in Vandergrift at a vacant commercial building at 226-235 Longfellow St. The remaining roof then slid into an occupied house next door, police said.
Much of the Mid-Mon Valley remained under a flash flood warning — an intimation of heavy rains and thunderstorms expected into Wednesday, said Rihaan Gangat of the weather service. “It looks as if more thunderstorms could form in eastern Ohio and create the threat of similar weather the next two days here.
“The main concern was — and still is — flash flooding, and we don’t expect that to change anytime soon.”
More than 3,000 First Energy customers without power in the morning were back on line by 3 p.m. The company expected to have all power restored by about 9 p.m., according to its website.
Paul Peirce is a reporter for Trib Total Media.