Abnormally wet 2019 shows little sign of slowing down

Jonathan Roberts • Updated Jun 25, 2019 at 7:52 AM

It’s been a banner year for rainfall in East Tennessee, and forecasters are unsure when — or if — that rain will subside.

Six months into 2019, Johnson City has already received 33.19 inches of rain, which is 12.85 inches above average for this time of year. The record amount of rain through June 24 is 33.54 inches, which was set in 1950.

“We are close to 4.5 inches above normal so far, just for the month of June,” Doug Schneider, with the National Weather Service in Morristown, said. “It's definitely been a very wet month so far.”

June Rainfall Statistics
Total June To Date (Record High):  7.38” 
Previous June To Date Record:  6.77” (1944) 
Average Total June Rainfall: 2.95”
Departure From Normal:  4.43” 
Record Total June Rainfall: 8.37” (2013)

The average rainfall for June is 2.95 inches, and with storms in the forecast for Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday it’s possible another monthly record will be set, as the 7.38 inches of rain the Tri-Cities has gotten so far — a record amount for the first 24 days in June — is just 0.99 inch shy of the 8.37 inches record rainfall for June, set in 2013.

Schneider noted there’s nothing they can point to that’s contributed to the abnormally wet weather, saying it’s “just the way the weather patterns have set up.”

James Everett with the Tennessee Valley Authority, meanwhile, says that the heavy rains have forced the TVA to be “ready around the clock,” but that there’s no river or dam overflow concern.

“We don’t know when the next flood is going to happen,” said Everett, who’s also the manager for the TVA’s River Forecast Center. “We need to ready around the clock with our river levels, we always target to be as close to our flood guide as possible.”

Everett said that everything has to be managed in real time, as they’re only able to reliably use three-day forecasts to predict rainfall. He also notes that in Northeast Tennessee, the Watauga and South Holston dams — which are the area’s largest — will be operating a bit above flood guide levels, however, though it’s “no cause for alarm.”

Thus far in 2019, Everett says the TVA has prevented more than $1.6 billion in flood damage in the East Tennessee Valley, which includes everything upstream of Chattanooga.

The TVA is also anticipating another record-breaking year of rainfall, saying “we’re on track” to break last year’s record of 67 inches in the East Tennessee Valley, and that it is currently at 37.1 inches of rain through Monday afternoon.

In the Tri-Cities, another record-breaking year of rainfall is likely, which would represent a fourth straight year of rainfall totals increasing. The record rainfall total in a single year for the Tri-Cities was the 65.64 inches that fell in 2003, a record 2019 could challenge.

Tri-Cities Annual Rainfall Statistics
Total To Date: 33.19” 
Record To Date: 33.54” (1950)
Average Year To Date: 20.20”
Average Annual Rainfall: 54.23”
Record Annual Rainfall: 65.64” (2003)

The outlook for the final six months of 2019, and whether the Tri-Cities will track closer to average is murky at best.

“It’s hard to say how it’s going to continue,” Schneider said. There’s not a clear signal if (the weather) is going to be abnormally wet or really dry.”

Average total rainfall for July to December is just over 22 inches, which, if the rest of the year is average, would put 2019 as the third-wettest year on record, behind 2003 and 2013 (57.68 inches) — a year that saw widespread flooding hit the Johnson City area.