Anyone who lives in Ohio knows that weather forecasting is an uncertain business. Citizens of river towns like Marietta and Parkersburg know that river forecasting is even more difficult. Not only do meteorologists have to track what is happening locally, they also have to monitor what is happening north of the location. Heavy rains can swell the river as they move south, even if it doesn’t rain much directly where you are.
The complexities of river forecasting were highlighted this past weekend during Marietta’s popular Sternwheel Festival. Saturday afternoon it was announced that the Ohio River could potentially flood beginning mid-day on Sunday. Most forecasting systems agreed that the flooding would be even worse than it had been in the spring.
What do you do when your small town is enjoying the apex of its tourism season while rivers are expected to rise to flood levels and beyond? Many small towns rely on big summer festivals to bring people into local shops and eateries. It’s a chance for small towns to show off their best assets and promote why they are great places to live. Hasty decisions based on weather can prematurely end the event and truly hurt local businesses.
The Sternwheel Festival crew did a good job monitoring the situation. Although a few sternwheelers left Saturday night to be on the safe side, the fireworks still went off without a hitch and they were just as glorious as ever. Some events were canceled on Sunday while others were shifted indoors to keep people entertained AND dry.
The interesting twist to this story is that Sunday afternoon, meteorologists reported that the flood danger had passed and the river would not even reach all that close to flood levels. That’s how the uncertainty of river forecasting goes, but Marietta has been through floods and flood warnings enough to take it extra safe, and that is what was accomplished over Sternwheel weekend. It’s true that some people may have opted not to come to town because of the forecast, and some people left early, but that disappointment is far better than risking any potential serious danger.
All small towns face these kinds of crucial decisions. The cause may not be river flooding. It may be hurricane forecasts or earthquakes or who knows what else. The uppermost responsibility all towns have is to keep people safe, and Marietta accomplished that this weekend. You can rest assured you will be well taken care of when you live here.