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A Brief History of Flooding in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

A Brief History of Flooding in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - Image 1Flooding has been a persistent issue for Pittsburgh, PA for over a century. The city, located at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, and the beginning of the Ohio River, has seen numerous instances of severe flooding that have caused significant damage to the area. In this brief article, we will take a look at the history of flooding in Pittsburgh and its impact on the city.

One of the earliest instances of significant flooding in Pittsburgh occurred in 1907, when the Allegheny River overflowed its banks, causing widespread damage and evacuations. The Pittsburgh Press reported that "thousands of families were driven from their homes and the city was practically paralyzed" as a result of the flood. In response to the 1907 flood, the city implemented measures to prevent future flooding, including the construction of retaining walls along some of the riverbanks.  This was an ambitious project, but it wasn’t enough. 

A Brief History of Flooding in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - Image 2Another major flood took place in 1936, when heavy rains led to the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers overflowing their banks. Dubbed the “St. Patrick’s Day Flood” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that "flood waters swept over large areas of the city and adjacent territory, engulfing homes, factories, and transportation facilities." The flood caused extensive damage and left many residents homeless. In response to the 1936 flood, the city implemented additional measures to prevent future flooding, including the construction of more retaining walls, locks, dams and the creation of a storm sewer system.

In 1972, Hurricane Agnes brought heavy rains to the region, causing the Monongahela River to rise to record levels. The Pittsburgh Press reported that "the floodwaters caused widespread damage, washed out bridges and roads, and left hundreds of residents homeless." The damage from Hurricane Agnes was so severe that it prompted the Army Corps of Engineers to take action to prevent future flooding in the city. The Army Corps of Engineers implemented a number of measures, including the construction of levees and the installation of floodgates, to protect the city from future floods.

Despite these efforts to prevent future flooding, Pittsburgh remains especially susceptible to flooding due to several factors. One factor is the city's aging storm sewer system, which was originally built in the 1930s and has not been updated to keep pace with the city's growing population. The old storm sewer system is often overwhelmed by heavy rains, contributing to widespread flooding in the city.

Another factor contributing to Pittsburgh's vulnerability to flooding is its terrain. The city is located in a narrow valley between two hills, which creates a funnel for floodwaters to flow into the city. Additionally, many low-lying areas near the rivers are susceptible to flooding, especially during heavy rains.

The most recent significant flood to impact Pittsburgh occurred in 2004, when heavy rains from Hurricane Ivan caused the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers to overflow their banks. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that "the floodwaters caused widespread damage, washed out bridges and roads, and left many residents without power." The damage from Hurricane Ivan was estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Despite the efforts of the Army Corps of Engineers to prevent future flooding in Pittsburgh, the city continues to be vulnerable to the effects of heavy rains and rising river levels. Many residents of the city, especially those living in low-lying areas near the rivers, have been forced to take action to protect their homes from flood damage.

One such resident, Karen Smith, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that "we have lived in this area for over 20 years, and every time it rains heavily, we worry about flooding. We have seen our neighbors' homes damaged by floods, and it is a constant worry for us."

Another resident, John Mackey, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that "we have seen the effects of flooding firsthand, and it is a very scary thing. The water can rise and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You’re helpless.” 

As time goes on, we will have other floods and ensuing damage. Although those that live in a flood plane have a challenging problem to tackle, many homes leak because of poor drainage and roof water management systems.  In many cases these can preemptively be fixed and your home protected.  Interest in learning more? Click HERE or call 1-800-771-3244

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Aaron Stull
Aaron Stull is a second generation foundation repair specialist from the greater Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area.

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