The torrents have at times poured down from the sky as if it’s the heart of spring. February is normally one of the drier months of the year, but large areas of the Lower 48 states have endured exceptionally wet weather.
Dozens of towns and cities in multiple regions have clinched their wettest February ever recorded. In the northern United States, two to three times the normal amount of precipitation has fallen, while deluges have routinely struck the West Coast.
The Mid-South and Upper Midwest have arguably been the epicenters of the onslaught of precipitation.
For example, precipitation fell in Chicago 34 days in a row, dating back to the end of January. And from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee Valley, more than a foot of rain has soaked numerous locations.
Tupelo, Miss.; Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn.; and Huntsville, Ala., all posted their wettest February on record, dating back to the 1800s.
Locations in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia have also had record rainfall.
All of this water has had to go somewhere, and as of Thursday morning, about a dozen river gauges along the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers remained in major flooding stage. Roughly 150 more were seeing minor to moderate flooding.
Tennessee has perhaps seen worst the Mid-South’s worst flooding. A state of emergency remains in place, as thousands of structures have been flooded, and at least three deaths have been confirmed. Sixty-four counties there have reported impacts from high water.
For the most part, this latest round of flooding has peaked in the Mid-South and rivers will tend to recede until more rain falls. But then, more heavy rainfall is already in the forecast for this region next week.
To the north, the excessive precipitation has come down in the form of snow. Even the snow-hardened folks of Minnesota are crying uncle.
Marquette, Mich., has posted a remarkable 89.9 inches of snow this month, ranking second most behind the 91.9 inches in February 2002.
On the international border, between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, Sault Ste. Marie has recorded 45.1 inches of snow, the most on record during the month.
Other locations posting their snowiest February on record include Minneapolis and Duluth, Minn.; Fargo, N.D.; and Des Moines, according to Praedictix Weather. And to the west, numerous locations near the Continental Divide in Montana have also seen record amounts of precipitation in February, along with extreme cold.
Great Falls, Mont., has posted a February record 31.3 inches of snow and measurable snowfall on a record 19 days. The snow has been accompanied by frigid temperatures: Its average temperature for the month will finish around minus-1 marking its second coldest on February on record.
The hefty snowpack in the north will eventually feed into streams and rivers as the spring melt season gets underway. National Weather Service offices in the Northern Plains and along major rivers elsewhere are already warning of above normal flooding risk heading into the rainy season over the next few months.
The West has also seen more than its share of deluges.
In addition to the catastrophic flooding that turned the Sonoma County town of Guerneville into an island, numerous other areas have faced high water in California. Because of the somewhat random nature of extreme “atmospheric river” events, monthly rainfall records are not too numerous in the state, but historically high snow numbers abound.
Numerous monthly rainfall totals have approached or even exceeded the 8- to 10-inch mark to the north of the San Francisco Bay.
Venado, in the hills of Sonoma County, picked up more than 20 inches of rain in this week’s atmospheric river event alone. That location has seen its wettest February on record, with 45.66 inches of rain. Other record or near-record February totals occurred around Monterrey and Carmel to the south of San Francisco as well as Eureka and Crescent City in the north.
Although this is a weak El Niño winter, which tends to come with the expectation of increased precipitation in places like California and the South, long-term trends also point to an increasing background risk of heavier rainfalls because of climate change. Places east of the Plains, including the Mid-South and Great Lakes region — which have been extra-wet this February — have seen some of the strongest of such trends, along with the Northeast.
In the near term, more atmospheric rivers are expected along the West Coast, and expectations are for a continued wetter-than-normal pattern to cover much of the Lower 48 heading into spring.