Bad winter, bad forecasting

Written by Jon Schmitz on .


In the fervent hope that the final snowflakes of the season have drifted to the ground, we offer a last look at the accuracy of the long-range winter weather forecasts offered by the three Pittsburgh TV meteorologists last fall.

It was a bad winter for all of us. The snow and howling winds left all our faces red. But for KDKA’s Jeff Verszyla, the shade of red might have been slightly brighter. Here’s what he said on the last day of October:

“Last year, we finished the season with just over 57 inches, which was way above the seasonal average of 41 inches. This year, we won’t approach last year’s total.”

He then served up a prediction that 32 inches would fall for the entire season. The actual total through Wednesday: 62.5 inches. Juuust a bit outside.

WTAE’s Mike Harvey and WPXI’s Stephen Cropper did better, but not by a lot. Neither came very close to foreseeing the above-average snowfalls that fell from December through February; both overguessed what would fall in March.

The breakdown (with actual snowfall totals in parentheses):

Harvey -- December, 8 inches (15); January, 15 (17.9); February, 13 (16.1); March, 9 (4.1).

Cropper -- December, 10 inches (15); January, 12 (17.9); February, 12 (16.1); March, 8 (4.1).

None of the three came close to accurately forecasting the bitter cold that gripped us after Jan. 1.

Verszyla and Cropper said February would be the coldest month (wrong, it was January); Harvey said monthly average temperatures would be from 0.5 to 1 degree below normal (way wrong, the average was 6.3 degrees below normal in January, 5.4 in February and 4.9 so far in March).

So maybe it was an off-year for our weather seers. Or maybe they should just acknowledge that long-range winter forecasts are little more than guesswork designed to build ratings.

One final note: These guys were slam-dunked by the Farmer’s Almanac (and legendary forecaster “Caleb Weatherbee”) and the Old Farmer’s Almanac, both of which warned us it would be colder and snowier than normal.


With the Pennsylvania Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett having stepped up to improve the state’s transportation system, it would be a shame if they were undercut by the gridlocked Congress, which has not come up with a plan to rescue the Highway Trust Fund, the principal source of revenue for federally supported projects. It is projected to run out of money this summer.

AASHTO, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, projects that 6,000 U.S. construction projects could be halted if the fund runs dry. It has produced an interesting slideshow about what’s at stake, which can be seen here.

The trust fund has lost more than half of its purchasing power since 1990 because of inflation (the federal gasoline tax is NOT indexed to inflation and hasn’t been raised since 1993), cars that burn less fuel and a decline in driving during the economic slump.

It will be interesting to see if U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, can help pave the way to an adequate funding solution before the current transportation law expires at the end of September. So far, Mr. Shuster has told us he thinks transportation infrastructure is important, and that fiscal discipline is important, but has yet to offer much in the way of details.


Bridge replacement will begin on Lebanon Road in West Mifflin on Thursday. You think this bridge maybe needs it?


The $4.6 million project will replace the bridge over the Union Railroad tracks between Lebanon Church Road and Noble Drive. Two-way traffic will be maintained with intermittent stoppages. The work is scheduled for completion in April 2015.

The right lane of outbound Route 65 will be closed at the Interstate 279 split on the North Side from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday during bridge inspection.

One outbound lane will close on Route 28, at the bridge that carries a Freeport Road ramp over the highway in O'Hara, from 9 p.m. Thursday to 2 a.m Friday during inspections.

Also, inbound Route 28 will be closed overnight at the 31st Street Bridge starting at 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Traffic will be pushed across the bridge to Penn Avenue and on to the 16th Street Bridge to recross the river. The closure will end by 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday and 5 a.m. Monday. Crews will install utility hole covers. Also, single-lane traffic will occur on inbound Route 28 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday between the 31st Street Bridge and the East Ohio Street off-ramp.

Early reminder that North Shore lots will be closed to commuters on Monday and Thursday next week, when the Pirates play day games against the Chicago Cubs.

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Orthodox prelates shared a broader vision

Written by Peter Smith on .

attyOften I write obituaries about people whose remarkable lives came to my attention upon their death, -- and found myself wishing I had known them while I had the chance. Learning about the life of America's longest-service Orthodox Christian bishop -- the Antiochian Metropolitan Philip Saliba, who will be buried next week at Antiochian Village in Westmoreland County, Pa. -- was one such case.

Sadly, another Antiochian prelate, also with local connections, was taken from us last week as well, and I knew this one well enough to mourn his passing.

The Rev. Alexander Atty, a native of Johnstown, Pa., who earned a doctorate in ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, was himself ordained by Metropolitan Saliba. The influence shows. He was long pastor at St. Michael the Archangel Antiochian Orthodox Church in Louisville, Ky. I used to interview him when I was religion writer at The Courier-Journal there. Unlike Pennsylvania, there was a very small Orthodox presence in Louisville, but Rev. Atty had the same sense of mission that Metropolitan Philip had on a larger scale -- to expand beyond the Arab ethnic roots of the movement and embrace any who felt called to Orthodox spirituality. In a city with only two Orthodox churches of any type, that meant his parish drew an ethnically diverse group of worshipers.

Rev. Atty was taken too soon, at age 62, after a long battle with cancer.

To emphasize his pan-Orthodox sensibilities, Rev. Atty served more recently as dean of St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary in South Canaan, Pa. -- affiliated with the Orthodox Church in America -- from July 2010 until his retirement due to illness in February 2013.

In one of my stories, I interviewed him about what it's like to mark Easter on a different calendar from most other Christians in the West:

"We are not commercialized,'' he said. "Our kids know that the resurrection is primo and the Easter bunny and Easter eggs are secondary.''

The Orthodox, he said, "take the Holy Week as a microcosm of your life. You have life, suffering, death and resurrection.''

When Rev. Atty became pastor, he said in a sermon, some parishioners told him that he had "ruined'' the annual service of Holy Unction on the Wednesday before Easter because he told them they needed to go to confession before receiving the ritual anointing.

"I don't know how anybody could have believed'' that they could avoid confession, Rev. Atty said. "The church isn't instant lube. It means nothing if there's no devotion. If God isn't first, he doesn't exist.''


I had been out of touch with him after he had left Louisville, but I'm glad I got to know him when I did.



His obituary is here.



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Lights on at Allegheny City Market

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

The Allegheny City Market has just opened at the location of the former Doug’s Market on Arch Street, bringing an easily walkable service back to the Central Northside. 
Doug’s closed late last fall.
Proprietor Rob Collins, who also owns the Bryant Street Market in Highland Park, has brightened the space and put down wood floors. He is offering many of the same provisions — although the market in Highland Park is larger — including sandwiches-to-go that sell like gangbusters on Bryant Street.
The Allegheny City Market carries more produce than Doug’s did, including big hanks of cilantro, avocados, cucumbers and lettuce. It also carries a fair number of upscale brands and food(ie)stuffs such as Greek yogurt, organic items and a variety of flours and grains.
This market and what it stocks reflects the diversity of the neighborhood, although it still awaits the federal government’s go-ahead to be able to accept customers’ SNAP benefits — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.
Since the late 1800s, 1327 Arch St. has been a neighborhood market, with that recent blip of several months in transition. Not counting the businesses on Federal and North, the Central Northside has very few retail options.
The Buena Vista Cafe recently closed, leaving Wilson's Bar-B-Que, the Monterey Pub and Riggs Lounge as the only other retail spots. The Allegheny City Market is not just a viable purveyor of groceries. It's another enlivened storefront in a neighborhood that would be more vibrant with more of them.

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Bishop Zubik: No Common Core in Pittsburgh's Catholic schools

Written by Peter Smith on .

bishop-zubikBishop David Zubik said that Common Core -- the national educational standards that many public and Catholic schools have adopted -- won't be coming to Catholic schools in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.


In a March 18 letter, Bishop Zubik weighed in on a debate that has been roiling in educational circles recently.


Common Core was put together by representatives of various state, educational and other private organizations, trying to develop standard baselines for what students should be learning nationwide. In addition to critics who say it shoehorns a one-size-fits-all approach to public schools, some in Catholic circles have opposed using standards other than those that start with a Catholic model.


Bishop Zubik wrote that even if Pennsylvania were to adopt the Core standards for the public schools, they would not be mandated for parochial ones. 


He wrote:

"The Common Core is a set of minimum standards, intended to help public schools with their effort to prepare students for higher education and the workforce. Schools in the Diocese of Pittsburgh have always set higher standards, and we continue to challenge students to exceed those standards. 


"A number of parents have raised questions about Common Core-related resource materials that conflict with Catholic teaching and have expressed concern about Common Core requirements to collect and report student data in a way that might violate the privacy of students. Be assured that our Catholic identity is the core of our curriculum. Our Catholic faith guides the selection of all curricula, goals, textbooks and other resources. Furthermore, schools in the Diocese of Pittsburgh do not share data on individual students with any state or federal databases."

At the same time, Bishop Zubik maintained the diocese's cooperation with the National Catholic Educational Association, which has helped other dioceses to implement the Core standards. The association is having a national convention here in Pittsburgh next month, and it has been helping Catholic school systems adapt to the standard. That, Bishop Zubik said, "has no bearing on education in the Diocese of Pittsburgh."


U.S. News reports here on Catholic dioceses that are adopting the Common Core. 

"We've always used a secular standard as our academic benchmark," a California Catholic educator said. "Then our job as Catholic educators is to make sure the faith is infused and the Catholic identity of our schools is strong. That's always been something that we've had to do."






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Yinzerpedia: Park'n Eat, Mount Washington and virtual library cards

Written by Ethan Magoc on .

Welcome to the second edition of Yinzerpedia, a new rubric where we present a roundup of issues Pittsburghers care about each week.

So, let's take a look. What was Pittsburgh curious about this week?

Plenty: from car insurance to Westmoreland County schools and much more.

The insightful answers — those that aren’t complete snark — serve as a helpful guide to 21st-century Pittsburgh, and we feature some of each week’s more helpful and interesting exchanges here. Please do join the ongoing discussion in our comments below.

And yes, we affectionately call this feature “Yinzerpedia,” since it takes the principle of the crowdsourcing site Wikipedia, but the "crowd" for our purposes is all of yinz.

Question: Why should I move to Pittsburgh? (March 14)

Pittsburgh skyline in fog photo by Darrell Sapp Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

(Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

First, since the questioner lives in Buffalo, Pittsburgh has the advantage of being outside the heart of the snow belt.

But beyond the additional 50 inches of snow, Buffalo is less enticing for a number of reasons, many of which were listed in that Reddit thread.

In August, we addressed the issue of Pittsburgh's reluctant Rust Belt city awesomeness, and it's worth revisiting.

Oh, did we mention this skyline?

Question: Where do I get fresh coffee beans in Pittsburgh? (March 16)

Plenty of Redditor answers, and here they all are on a map.

What's your favorite place to get fresh coffee beans?

Question: Why is it called Eat’n Park? (March 17)

Smiley Eatn Park mascot photo by Pam Panchak Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

(Pam Panchak/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

After the news this week of a "new" Eat'n Park on Banksville Road, the question, "Why is it called Eat’n Park?" came up in the Post-Gazette's morning editorial meeting.

It's apparently not a new question.

As Mike Mackin of Heinz History Center wrote for the PG in 2010, Isaly's restaurant executive Larry Hatch created the franchise in 1949, taking advantage of the post-war automobile boom. "Mr. Hatch knew the Pittsburgh area needed a restaurant to capture the spirit of the times," Mackin wrote, "and took the innovative approach of reversing the then-popular restaurant phrase 'Park & Eat' — the catchy Eat'n Park name worked."

It might have worked, and the chain is now one of the region's most popular, but its name is still in the befuddling category of "parking on the driveway, driving on the parkway."

Question: What is Mount Washington REALLY like? (March 17)

Mount Washington Photo by Michael Henninger Pittsburgh Post-Gazette1

(Michael Henninger/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The thread is worth your a read and is elucidating: about the neighborhood, which areas are better than others and more. The responses are also a reminder that a neighborhood is always more complex than its view of the city, no matter how magnificent.

Really, there are 2 Mt. Washingtons. Mount Washington on Grandview is a tourist area with fancy restaurants along a grand promenade lined with expensive condominiums. The rest of Mt. Washington, once you are a hundred yards from the edge of the hill is a rather ordinary working class "yinzer" neighborhood, some parts a bit more gritty than others. It's certainly accessible enough to town, or down the back way to the Parkway and the airport.

Question: Will you eventually be able to get a CLP library card without going in person? (March 19)

 Carrick branch of Carnegie Library photo by Robin Rombach Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 Carrick branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. (Robin Rombach/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Any Reddit Ask Me Anything that features the word "Boopsie" as part of an answer is OK by us.

And the rest of the Q&A is excellent, too, especially if you're interested in the future of your local library.

So, "Will you eventually be able to get a CLP library card without going in person?"

For now, it seems like the answer is a "no."

"Our big issue is address verification," writes Toby Greenwalt, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's new Director of Digital Strategy and Technology Integration. "Due to our bylaws, we have to confirm that the user is actually a resident of the area to give them a free card. Commercial services have it easy, in that there's an easy way to verify through a credit card number. It's a tougher nut to crack when you're not actually selling a product."

Previous Yinzerpedias:

Swimming holes, recycling schedule and Pittsburgh (March 14)

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