After 65 years, the Warren Fourth of July Parade has seen just about everything.
On Wednesday, there was a first for the event.
It was canceled because of severe weather.
A young man makes his way along Pennsylvania Avenue as other parade spectators huddle in doorways of storefronts to get out of the storm that cancelled Warren’s Fourth of July Parade. It was the first time the parade has ever been cancelled because of the weather.
Bill Thompson, parade chairman, said Thursday that severe weather including lightning caused him and other members of the parade committee to make the decision. Also, he said, it would have been difficult to reorganize over 100 units after people began dispersing from the storm.
"It's like a huge boulder rolling out of control," Thompson said. "You don't stop it."
To set the parade back up again, Thompson said, would have taken too long. Other activities were going on at Betts Park and they would have overlapped.
Weather posed a safety issue, Thompson said, as people could have been struck by lightning. After the bad weather started, he said, he waited in vain for a half hour for the heavy rain to quit before making the decision to cancel the parade.
If it had been a passing storm, Thompson said they could have continued. Instead, it proved to be too much.
Previously, Thompson said, the parade had been postponed but never canceled. This was his first year as parade chairman, he said, and he was devastated.
"All that work into the parade lasted from six months to a year," Thompson said. "It was washed up in one day."
The weather continued for 45 minutes to an hour, Thompson said, with a hard downpour for at least 20 minutes. With an outside event like the parade, he said, there's little organizers can do about inclement weather.
From serving on the parade committee for the past couple years, Thompson said he knows the parade can be stalled if a storm is coming. This year, he said, the parade had been going on for 45 minutes when the storm came through.
One person had weather radar on a cell phone, Thompson said, and it looked severe. With so many people at the parade, he said they couldn't take any chances.
There were no injuries, Thompson said, and everyone dispersed safely enough. Traffic got going again smoothly, he said, and some of the bands continued to play under shelter.
A group performed beneath the Country Fair gas pump canopy, Thompson said, and Prime Time Brass went to the American Legion where they were allowed to play for two hours. He credited the Legion for stepping up and allowing the band to still perform.
Despite rumors that the parade would resume Thursday or Saturday, Thompson said it won't. Instead, he said, it will wait until next year.
"It's a time issue," Thompson said. "We'd have to get hold of these groups and they might have other engagements."
Thompson said he appreciates those who came out. While he's sorry about the weather, he said he plans to make next year's parade as good as this year's was supposed to be.
Wally Post, event chairman, said the fourth and final division was just starting to move when the parade was canceled. Already, he said, the first three units were on the street and the first one was pretty much finished.
Activities at Betts Park were not affected, Post said, and everybody was amazed with the band Frontiers. Large crowds gathered, he said, adding that he's heard more comments about this year's fireworks than ever before.
Lightning which canceled the parade was extreme and heavy, Post said, and accompanied by wind, hail and rain. People spent weeks and months creating their floats, he said, and many of their creations were damaged.
"We had bad weather before we could work through," Post said. "It was mostly rain."
It has rained before and after the parade in previous years, Post said, but in his 40 years of involvement there were only three times when it rained during the parade. Even then, he said there had never been a storm like the one that rolled in on Wednesday.
At the outset of the parade, Post said, the sky was clear and there was a lot of people in attendance.
This year's event committee was outstanding, Post said, and it made the right decisions. He thanked them along with the volunteers.
"There were probably 30 people helping out," Post said. "We've done it with four in the past."
When he talks about it, Post said he gets emotional. Already, he said, people have expressed interest in being on the committee next year.
Warren City Police Sgt. Brandon Deppen said the parade was first postponed due to the weather. Then, he said, a lot of people left to take shelter and organizers decided to cancel it.
A notification from the National Weather Service said to expect a severe thunderstorm. With so many people at the parade, he said, it would have been difficult to get them inside of businesses for shelter since many of those establishments were closed in observance of the holiday.
"They went to wherever they could find someplace," Deppen said.
Fr. Rich Toohey, pastor at St. Joseph Parish, said the doors at the church were open from the beginning. Once the rain started, he said around 50 to 60 people came to wait out the storm.
Some clustered in the main vestibule, Toohey said, and others were in the hallway between the church and school. Due to work being done on the roof, he said the school was not open.
To accommodate the crowds, Toohey said he opened up the rectory, a house where clergy lives. Many of the people were thanking him for having the complex open, he said.
For the two years he has been at the church, Toohey said, they've had it open so people could use the restrooms. In addition, he said the parking lot has been available for use during that time.
"As it was storming, I was going between doors and trying to open them for ventilation," Toohey said. "It was muggy."
According to Toohey, people were there for 20 to 30 minutes waiting for news on the parade. After asking around, he said he made his way to the reviewing stand and police said it had been canceled.
Then, Toohey said, he went back to the church to tell people. Most were making their way out at that point.
Despite the weather, Toohey said the people remained in good spirits. Many tended to their children, he said, or continued with conversations.
On that end of town, Toohey said, many businesses were closed. If the church hadn't been opened, he said he hopes he would have made the decision to do so.
"I had been asked to do the opening prayer," Toohey said. "The whole parade and July Fourth activities help build a community identity."
The church wants to do what it can to support that, Toohey said, and make sure the event continues that spirit. In the future, he said, the church will continue to lend support.
Courtney Froman serves as head coach of Warren YMCA Powerhouse Gymnastics, which participated in the parade. The group had a lot of girls participating, she said, and they made the decision to go back to YMCA after only making it to the intersection of Conewango and Pennsylvania avenues.
At that point, Froman, said they were soaking wet. Some of the little girls were upset it was storming, she said, and they wouldn't have gone back if the parade had resumed.
"We would have liked to finish, but you can't control the weather," Froman said.