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Why Was Last Year So Rainy?

man with umbrella on rainy day
(Image: Getty Images)

Last year sure felt soggy here in Richmond, VA. After looking at all of the rain we got last year, scientists have announced it was the second wettest year since we began keeping records of rainfall here in the capital city. This trend does not just apply here, many parts of the nation got rocked with rain storms. Why was last year so rainy? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the  Science Museum of Virginia to find out.

From May 2018 to May 2019 Richmond, VA saw 65.6" of rain, totally  surpassing the average of 43.7" from recent previous years. This was not just a Richmond occurrence. NOAA's recently released data show that not only did we experience soggy times here in Virginia, but many places around the US actually had their  record-wettest years!

So, what gives, rainclouds?!?! Well, climate scientists are looking at a few factors involved here. A stubborn weather system parked over the Atlantic ocean directed tons of tropical moisture to our mid-Atlantic region, while at the same time a similar system over Alaska combined with the natural jet stream to guide storms across the midwest and to our neighborhood. While these systems are just part of the variations that make our weather, the longer-term trends toward wetter years due to climate change make for an interesting analogy.


Grass grows on its own but grows very differently once you add fertilizer.

Climate change is like "fertilizer" for our weather, especially rainfall. As the atmosphere becomes warmer evaporation increases, resulting in a lot more moisture circulating through the lower atmosphere. This means intense precipitation events become more common. A huge concern with this trend of increasing extreme rain events is flooding in urban areas. Places where we continue to convert more land from natural rain absorbing landscapes into paved regions which allow water to pool up, and flow over into storm drains. Another concern here is that larger storms like hurricanes are also now moving slower thus allowing larger amounts of rain to fall over a region.

Scientists say a few things can help lessen the stress on aging city stormwater management systems. Attaching rain barrels to your downspouts would help decrease the amount of rain going into drains during heavy storms. Homeowners keeping native plants in their yards will help their area absorb rain instead of it running off into the sewers. In the past, we’ve seen some pretty huge flooding problems as storms bring massive amounts of water over paved areas.  Hurricane Harvey brought devastating amounts of rain to Texas and the paved environment contributed to the intense flooding that followed. Looking back on the storm, scientists were also able to attribute these heavy slow moving storms to climate change.

As we continue to develop more land and experience more intense weather events, we can use data like this recently published information to help prepare for and plan better for the future. Not only would city planning go a long way, but also having citizens that are prepared for flooding would help make the entire region more resilient to these extreme weather events. After all, as you know, when it rains it pours!

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