10/2/04 7:47 PM
Copyright 2004 David C. Loebig
Ivan on the Hunt
Storm Chasing: Ivan on the Hunt
With all the storms in Florida, I, like everybody else, now have a
favorite hurricane reporter. (Everybody else has a favorite reporter,
right, or is that just me?) Mine is Samara Sodos of WFLA. I e-mailed
her to see if I could go along for the next storm. I really wanted to
write about storm chasing.
But, alas, she said the corporate execs probably wouldn’t go
for it, liabilities and all. Who can blame them? I would have just been
a crybaby the whole time anyway.
So be it, Hurricane Frances did me a favor, nonetheless. She disrupted
travel to Florida, so airline bookings were light, the rates dropped,
and I was able to get a great price on a flight to Pittsburgh.
You might say a trip to Pittsburgh is something you shouldn’t
have to pay for, but it’s home to me, so I pay. It was an opportunity
to get away from the pesky storms.
You couldn’t guess who followed me there: Ivan, and he delivered
the rainiest day in Pittsburgh history.
Pittsburgh has lots of hills, so it drained well, and that was the
problem. It drained right onto the roads.
Not knowing all of that, my dad and I started off toward the mall and
an office supply store.
The first sign of trouble was a short distance from home when we were
turned back on Union Avenue just beyond the high school where the water
We took another route and still ran into some bothersome puddles that
diverted and slowed traffic. All the while, it kept raining.
As we turned left onto McKnight Road, a six-lane main road, the water
was running high down the northbound lanes, and it became clear that
we couldn’t continue. A quick right turn through traffic, and
a moment later we were heading south.
Since we were passing McDonalds and Staples, we made a quick stop.
Ten minutes later as we left, the traffic was routing itself through
the parking lot to avoid the rising water on the main road.
So another wait to get a break into traffic and we were off toward
Babcock Boulevard where we found a foot of water running down the roadway.
A careful jump of the curb to get onto the entrance ramp, and we were
back on McKnight Road.
My father knew a way to get back home by high ground...and by the way,
it passed Kelly’s Beer Distributor, so we might as well pick something
up. Some friends were stopping by that night, so we needed to stock
Up Ivory Avenue, to Perrysville, Bascom, Benton, Brighton, Lincoln
By now the TV was abuzz with road flooding, traffic jams, continuing
rain and cancellations. A short time later the McKnight Road McDonalds
was on the news with water over the parking lot and up to the door.
As the afternoon wore on there were more traffic jams, bus service
was delayed and then cancelled, and children were stranded at school.
Pittsburgh couldn’t move under the weight of six inches of rain.
Twenty-minute commutes became 2-hour struggles. Nearly every major
event that night was cancelled. Everybody ran late, and it became clear
our Friday night party was a bust. And we had a full case of beer. Too
The next day the front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette showed our
McKnight Road Staples and a stranded car on the road with water up to
the window. We had missed the worst flooding by perhaps 30 minutes.
The hills around Pittsburgh drain into creeks which run through valleys
where the small towns are. The creeks couldn’t handle the rush,
and they overflowed their banks into the valleys, the towns, the homes
and the businesses.
Over the weekend the reports came in. On Union Avenue just past my
high school, the homes were flooded by the small, nameless creek that
runs along the road. Greg, a high school friend, lost his carpet cleaning
business in Millville. Gary, a friend of a friend, lost his boat in
Etna and had several feet of water in his house.
One man was swept away by the current as water stormed through the
streets of Carnegie. Thousands of homes and neighborhood businesses
were flooded and wiped out, notably our favorite Irish restaurant, The
Blarney Stone. Flooded for the second time in about a dozen years, the
word is that the owner won’t rebuild.
It’s funny how things work out. I wanted to chase a storm, and
it chased me. Pittsburgh paid a price for Ivan, and it reminds me again
of a wise philosophy: You shouldn’t own anything you can’t
leave out in the rain.
Dave Loebig writes and banters out of the Tampa, Fla. area. You can banter with him at RandomDigressions.com.