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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Empty Netter Assists - 03-26-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .


-Dave Molinari's recap from last night's game. "We have nights where we're going real good, everybody's executing, we have great life, everyone's competing like crazy. Then we've had a few nights where we're just not very good. What's causing it? I don't know, but we've got to try to find a way to be better." - Matt Niskanen.

-The Associated Press' recap. "It gives confidence that if you can win in Pittsburgh you can win anywhere." - Coyotes captain/forward Shane Doan.


-Mike Lange's goal calls.

-The Penguins looking up from their bench:

-Olli Maatta doing his thing:

-A good look at the lid of Phoenix's Thomas Greiss:

-Even with Greiss looking elsewhere, Sidney Crosby couldn't score:

-Tanner Glass and Phoenix's Kyle Chipchura got busy in the corner:

-Submitted without further commentary:

-Dan Bylsma speaks:

-Sidney Crosby speaks:

-Taylor Pyatt speaks:

-“Every time you lose a player like him, it’s a big blow for the team. At the same time, we have dealt with lots of injuries during the year.” - Jussi Jokinen on Evgeni Malkin's foot injury.

-"Hockey is a business and I had to move on." - Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek on his time with the Penguins.

-How does Jayson Megna's recall impact the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins?

-Penguins forward prospect Josh Archibald is set to make his professional debut tonight with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

-The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins recalled forward Carter Rowney from the Wheeling Nailers.


-Happy 50th birthday to former Penguins defenseman Ulf Samuelsson (right). Acquired from the Whalers along with Ron Francis and Grant Jennings at the 1991 trade deadline in a deal which sent John Cullen, Jeff Parker and Zarley Zalapski to Hartford, Samuelsson spent parts of five seasons in Pittsburgh. He finished 1990-91 by appearing in 14 games, scored five points and recorded 37 penalty minutes. In 20 postseason games that spring, he scored five points including the Cup-clinching goal in an 8-0 win at Minnesota in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final, May 25, 1991. His first full season with the Penguins was 1991-92. In 62 games, he scored 15 points and accumulated 206 penalty minutes. He saw action in 21 postseason games that spring and scored seven points while helping the franchise win its second Stanley Cup title. During 1992-93, Samuelsson appeared in 77 games, scored 29 points and recorded a career-high 249 penalty minutes. In 12 postseason games that spring, he scored six points. In 1993-94, Samuelsson saw action in 80 games, netted 29 points and recorded 199 penalty minutes. He played in six playoff games that season and recorded one assist. During the lockout-shortened 1994-95 campaign, Samuelsson appeared in 44 games and netted 16 points. In seven postseason games that spring, he recorded two assists. During the 1995 offseason, Samuelsson and Luc Robitaille were traded to the Rangers in exchange for Petr Nedved and Sergei Zubov. One of the most physical and popular players in franchise history, Samuelsson appeared in 277 regular season games with the Penguins and scored 94 points, 91st-most in franchise history and recorded 804 penalty minutes, eighth-most. In 66 postseason games, he scored 16 points. Currently an assistant coach with the Rangers, his son, Philip Samuelsson, is a defensive prospect with the Penguins.

-After the Jump: Upper St. Clair's Vince Trocheck scores a pretty shootout goal.

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SiriusXM debuts Billy Joel channel today

Written by Scott Mervis on .


billyjoelpicBilly Joel is hot right now.

The Piano Man has that residency at Madison Square Garden. He drew more people to Consol Energy Center this season than Jay-Z and Arcade Fire combined.

Today at 6 p.m. (March 26), SiriusXM launches The Billy Joel Channel, which will run through June 25, via satellite on channel 4, online and through the SiriusXM Internet Radio App.

The music will span from his work with The Echoes in 1964 and through his solo years, right up to his forthcoming live album, “A Matter of Trust: The Bridge to Russia,” recorded in Russia in 1987 (the complete album will run the day of its release, May 20).

The channel will also feature rarities from the vaults, archival interviews, excerpts from “Masters Class” sessions he conducts with music students and guest DJ sessions.

The Billy Joel Channel joins such specialized SiriusXM channels as Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Radio, Jimmy Buffett’s Radio Margaritaville, Willie Nelson’s Willie’s Roadhouse, The Pink Floyd Channel, B.B. King’s Bluesville, Elvis Radio, Siriusly Sinatra, Ozzy Osbourne’s Ozzy’s Boneyard, Pearl Jam Radio, Eminem’s Shade 45, Tiësto’s Club Life Radio and Neil Diamond Radio.

For more information, go to


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Timeless beauty of amaryllis not only for the holidays

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog amarillis long 032514'Minerva' is an amaryllis bulb offered by Longfield Gardens. Photos by Doug Oster

blog amarillis long 0325There's another bud coming!The giant blooms of amaryllis help me get though the last days of winter. I grow about 25 different bulbs, some bloom in December, some in February and I've got a nice in bloom right now.

This is 'Minerva' from Longfield Gardens, shipped to me in January in a cool looking zinc pot. I've grown a few different varieties from the company and as you can see, these flowers are just the first flush, there's more to come.

The bulbs seem to have a mind of their own after the first bloom, the next season they will bloom again when treated right, but often won't be at the same exact time.

Once they are done flowering, I remove the flower stalk and let the foliage stand. Once there's no chance of frost, the plants go outside in the shade. I fertilize them every few weeks to help the bulb build energy for next year's blossoms.

In August, they come inside and are put into dormancy by withholding water and fertilizer. The big, strapping leaves will die back and I keep the bulb down int he basement for six to eight weeks, then bring it back up to the windowsill.

Once the bulb is lightly watered, it should send up a flower stalk and start the cycle again.

I have about a 50-50 success rate on re-blooming annually. The bulbs always re bloom eventually, once they have stored the energy they need for flowering.

Don't think of amaryllis as just a holiday flower, they are beautiful whenever they bloom.

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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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