2009: It’s been a wet one

Published 8:17 am Friday, December 11, 2009

FRANKLIN—In less than a month 2009 will come to an end, but it will leave behind a soggy record. According to the National Weather Service, 2009 will rank as one of the 10 wettest years on record.

So far this year, about 52 inches of rain has fallen in Wakefield and about 60 inches in Norfolk — with more expected. Bill Sammler, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Wakefield, said the NWS doesn’t have a rain gauge in Franklin, but Western Tidewater is running between 10 and 15 inches above normal in terms of precipitation for the year, judging from the gauge in Norfolk.

“All of that 15 inches has been since about the first of August,” he said.

Sammler estimates that 1.5 inches of rain fell just Tuesday night. Every month since August, with the exception of October, has brought above-average rain amounts.

This summer, before the wet pattern started in August, the region was abnormally dry, and last year’s precipitation was about average with nearly 45 inches falling.

“We’ve basically gone from being pretty dry to being very wet in the space of four months,” Sammler said. However, the region is still shy of the wettest year on record, which was 1889 when nearly 71 inches fell.

Now that the tropical season is over, Sammler said the region is much less likely to see the type of intense downpours that would be necessary for significant flash flooding.

“I wouldn’t be terribly concerned about a big flash flood event,” he said.

With the ground completely saturated, any additional rain could cause ponding on roadways and in yards.

Russ Pace, Franklin’s director of public works, said city crews have been working to ensure that ditches and drainage pipes remain clear.

“All in all, considering how wet it’s been this fall, we’ve fared pretty well,” he said. However, Pace said no matter how clean the ditches and drains are, when several inches of rain fall in a matter of hours, it can cause problems.

“You’re going to have some standing water,” he said. “It just takes some time to run off.”

Sammler also said he isn’t too concerned about the risk of a significant flooding event on the Blackwater River.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Blackwater river level was 12.45 feet. Flood stage is 12 feet. The Blackwater is expected to crest at 12.5 feet today — about a foot lower than it crested after last month’s nor’easter —and fall below flood stage Saturday. The Nottoway River is also experiencing minor flooding. Flood stage is 16 feet, and the river is expected to crest near 17.1 feet by Sunday afternoon.

There is a higher-than-normal risk of minor river flooding through January, but a storm would need to dump more than four inches of rain to make river flooding a serious threat, Sammler said.