ShareThis Page
Slow-moving storms to blame for recent flooding |

Slow-moving storms to blame for recent flooding

Tom Davidson
| Friday, July 6, 2018 7:36 p.m
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Emergency workers look for storm drains along a flooded street in Millvale on Thursday, July 5, 2018.
Jenny Sines
Heavy rain on the Fourth of July caused major flooding in Millvale, July 5, 2018.

Slow-moving storms and higher-than-average rainfall totals are largely to blame for Western Pennsylvania’s rash of landslides and flooding, officials say.

The region’s numerous rivers and streams, rolling hills and valleys aren’t doing it any favors.

“When you have a town that’s built over a creek, you have to expect flooding,” Millvale Mayor Brian Spoales said referring to Girtys Run, which receives storm runoff from suburban areas north of the borough and flows through the heart of town.

Millvale was one of the hardest-hit communities by storms that dumped 3 to 4 inches of rain across northern Allegheny County between 6 p.m. Wednesday and 8:30 a.m. Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Spoales has lived in Millvale for 26 years and remembers worse flooding, including 2004 when the remnants of Hurricane Ivan dumped nearly 6 inches of rain on Sept. 17, just more than a week after Hurricane Francis remnants brought nearly 4 inches.

“Ivan wiped out the whole town,” Spoales said.

This week’s storms prompted the third county disaster declaration of the year, Allegheny County Emergency Services Chief Matt Brown said.

The first was spurred by a series of landslides between February and April and the second declaration came after flooding on June 20, Brown said. The June flooding impacted 88 properties and resulted in one death, while this week’s flooding likely damaged more than 20 properties but no one was injured, he said.

The disaster declaration authorizes county agencies to use all available resources and personnel necessary and to waive normal bid and contract procedures to help expedite cleanup.

Nearly 7.8 inches of rain have fallen since June 1, about 1.7 inches more than average, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Shannon Hefferan.

Hefferan said much of the rain fell during so-called training storms in which the storms remained in one place for an extended period and pelted the areas below with heavy rain, including Millvale on two occasions this week and in the South Hills on June 20.

The area should dry out over the weekend and avoid any chance of rain until Tuesday, Hefferan said.

The National Weather Service’s 36-county region in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland has recorded 57 “flood events” this year in which a storm closed roads, damaged properties and put people in danger, Hefferan said. Eighteen of them have been in Allegheny County.

The region has averaged 71 flood events a year since 1986, with the high being 320 in 2003 and the low 6 in 1988. June and July are the peak months for flash floods, records show.

“Can you ever be ready? You try to prepare as much as possible,” Millvale’s Spoales said. “Somewhere over the line, it will happen again.”

Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review assistant news editor. You can contact Tom by email at or via Twitter .

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.