“April showers bring May flowers” took on a whole new meaning this year: The United States just experienced its second-wettest April on record. Average precipitation across the Lower 48 was 3.43 inches. In other words, if you spread all of the rain and snow out across the continental United States, each location would have received nearly 3 ½ inches. That is a lot of water.
This record is second only to April 1957 and nearly a full inch more than the average April rainfall in the 20th century.
Several strong and long-lasting storms brought excessive amounts of precipitation to the Pacific Northwest, the Great Plains and parts of the Southeast.
Above-normal precipitation has been an ongoing trend for the West Coast. In Seattle, a record 45.9 inches of rain have fallen since October. Meanwhile, Northern California officially had its wettest winter on record with several strong winter storms pushing the state’s water reservoirs to near-full capacity.
Ironically, after several years of a severe drought, California might now have too much water. The state’s last official snow survey in the Sierra Nevada measured snow levels at 190 percent above normal for May 1. With only 5 percent of the snowpack melted, state officials are concerned about where all the water will go.
“The thing we’re looking out for is primarily the southern Sierra, where we have full reservoirs and in some cases a huge snowpack,” said Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program. “We want to make sure that we prudently manage that so we don’t cause any downstream issues.”
While the Mid-Atlantic did see above-average precipitation for the month, locally April was more notable for the warm temperatures.
Eight jurisdictions, including Maryland, Virginia and the District, had their warmest April on record. Nationally, April came in at the 11th warmest on record, with only one state (Washington) recording below-average temperatures. With a fourth consecutive month of above-average temperatures, 2017 is the second-warmest year on record, with only 2012 having a warmer January-to-April stretch.
Record warmth will continue to hamper the country as we head into summer, but it’s the excessive precipitation (and lack of substantial precipitation for some areas) that will have the most immediate and potentially harmful effect. The ground is oversaturated in parts of Missouri, Southern Illinois and Southern Indiana, where upward of eight to 10 inches of rain fell over a period of several days.
April and May are the peak planting months for farmers across the Midwest, and too much rain is bad for business. As agriculture meteorologist Ed Vallee of BAMWX notes, farmers are in wait-and-see mode to determine just how detrimental the early season rains were:
“While wet conditions have delayed the planting process across the central and southern Belt, direct impacts on the crop will be determined by the remainder of the growing season’s weather.”
In parts of the southeastern United States, it was the lack of rainfall in April that has been a problem. A large wildfire in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge along the Florida-Georgia border has forced the thousands of evacuations. The fire, sparked April 6 by lightning, is in an area that has received little to no rain in several months.
The full national climate report will be issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on May 11. In the meantime, you can check out a preliminary summary of notable April weather events on the its website.