Baby, the rain must fall

Rappahannock News - - COMMENT • NATURE - PAM OWEN wil­[email protected]

While many read­ers may not be fa­mil­iar with the flawed 1965 film “Baby, the Rain Must Fall,” star­ring Steve McQueen and Lee Remick, its ti­tle popped into my mind as I was pon­der­ing 2018 pre­cip­i­ta­tion to­tals here in Rap­pa­han­nock County.

By July, many lo­cal­i­ties in Vir­ginia had bro­ken the an­nual av­er­age for pre­cip­i­ta­tion in the com­mon­wealth, 43 inches. I wanted to check the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s web­site for an­nual to­tals in Vir­ginia for 2018, but NOAA, like most other fed­eral agen­cies, was shut down. I in­stead just con­cen­trated on Rap­pa­han­nock, look­ing at data posted by county res­i­dents on our com­mu­nity List­serv, Rapp­net, and at 14 years of data col­lected by Dave Yow­ell at his weather sta­tion in Gid Brown Hol­low (GBH), near the town of Wash­ing­ton. Data col­lected by his sta­tion is avail­able on its web­site (rap­pa­han­nock­

When the drought that started in late sum­mer 2017 fi­nally ended last spring, pre­cip­i­ta­tion quickly caught up. Yow­ell’s data shows that the amount broke records from the pre­vi­ous 13 years sev­eral times, and the fi­nal to­tal was re­mark­able: 74.69 inches (see chart). The av­er­age for the thir­teen pre­vi­ous years at GBH, 43.64 inches, fit the his­tor­i­cal Vir­ginia av­er­age. The high­est to­tal rain­fall for 2004-2017 was 51.37 inches, reached in 2011; the low­est, 33.44 inches, in 2007. The to­tal pre­cip­i­ta­tion for 2017 was 40.54 inches. While daily to­tals at this weather sta­tion this year didn’t break records this year, the fre­quency of rain helped boost the to­tal. June was the wettest month (10.53 inches), which did not set a record for that month, but the to­tals for July (8.36 inches) and Au­gust (8.63 inches) did.

Karen Hen­der­son re­ported on Rapp­net that Eric Kvarnes' Weather Un­der­ground sta­tion, which is “still up and run­ning” south of Yow­ell’s in Gid Brown, showed 98.3 inches for last year’s to­tal. Missy McCool, who lives not far from Yow­ell, in Har­ris Hol­low, re­ported 94.48 inches at her place.

With vary­ing el­e­va­tions and ter­rain, from the moun­tains and hol­lows of the Blue Ridge to the hills and flats of the Pied­mont, Rap­pa­han­nock has many mi­cro­cli­mates. That means pre­cip­i­ta­tion can vary wildly even from one hol­low to the next and among dif­fer­ent el­e­va­tions. The next hol­low west of Gid Brown is Old Hol­low, where I live. At the up­per end of the hol­low, near the trail­head for Thorn­ton River Trail, in Shenan­doah Na­tional Park (SNP), Bruce Sloane has also been chart­ing the rain­fall. In a re­cent email, he said he hadn’t to­taled all the data yet for 2018 but fig­ured it would sur­pass 90 inches.

These higher to­tals come close to av­er­ages for Juneau, Alaska, on the south­east coast of Alaska. My brother lives there, and we dis­cussed the weather here and there in our weekly phone call this past week­end. Juneau was built in what is now the Ton­gass, a large tem­per­ate rain­for­est that is now a na­tional for­est. The city av­er­ages around 55-92 inches of pre­cip­i­ta­tion per year, de­pend­ing on the lo­ca­tion. This in­cludes an av­er­age 88 inches of snow, which is equiv­a­lent in water con­tent to about nine inches of rain. Three other Rap­pa­han­nock res­i­dents col­lect­ing pre­cip­i­ta­tion data in dif­fer­ent spots around the county re­ported lower to­tals than those in Gid Brown, Har­ris and Old hol­lows but none less than 74 inches.

The rain does have con­se­quences be­yond in­con­ve­nience and mood­damp­en­ing. Among these is un­der­min­ing and rot­ting tree roots, bring­ing trees crash­ing down. It may also be a fac­tor in poor mast crops (acorns, berries, etc.) anec­do­tally re­ported in many places in the county, de­spite the over­all abun­dance of mast in the North­ern Pied­mont re­gion, ac­cord­ing to the Vir­ginia De­part­ment of Game and In­land Fish­eries. Where I live, about a thou­sand feet up Oven­top Moun­tain, the con­tin­ual rains have brought down a stream of mud onto my drive­way, turn­ing my park­ing area into a Slip 'N Slide.

Although this week is mostly fore­cast to be dry, with only some snow, the last fore­cast from NOAA that I saw, in the fall, in­di­cated that we are prob­a­bly look­ing at a rel­a­tively cold, wet win­ter. I’m start­ing to rem­i­nisce about liv­ing in Seat­tle, where the pre­cip­i­ta­tion av­er­age is just 37.49 inches. In­stead of the del­uges we get here, the pre­cip­i­ta­tion of­ten comes in the form of mist or light rain but typ­i­cally was more fre­quent than here, which is de­press­ing and not good for my al­lergy to mold. How­ever, if the 2018 weather pat­tern per­sists, the Pa­cific North­west is look­ing bet­ter and bet­ter.

One way to make the most out of what may be con­tin­ued rainy weather is to get out and en­joy na­ture any­way. Next week, the Clifton In­sti­tute, in War­ren­ton, is of­fer­ing a work­shop on how to iden­tify trees in win­ter, and the Pied­mont Chap­ter of the Vir­ginia Na­tive Plant So­ci­ety is kick­ing off its Win­ter Speaker Se­ries with an in­door talk on “his­tor­i­cal botany” (see side­bar for de­tails).


Af­ter drought in the lat­ter half of 2017 and early 2018, record-break­ing rains have kept stream lev­els high and caused a host of prob­lems.

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