(This article was updated based on the new rainfall report from Dierks, Ark.)
Louisiana grabbed many of the headlines from former hurricane Barry. But the super-soggy storm made history in Arkansas, where it unloaded over 16 inches of rain, a record for a tropical weather system in the Razorback State.
Arkansas is now the fifth state to post a new tropical storm or hurricane rainfall record since 2017, joining Texas, Hawaii, North Carolina and South Carolina. These exceptional rainstorms keep happening and appear to be part of a trend toward more extreme events connected to climate change.
Barry’s remnants dispensed 16.17 inches in Dierks, Arkansas, which is about midway between Dallas and Memphis and 120 miles southwest of Little Rock. This preliminary report (which will require verification by the National Weather Service to become official) topped Arkansas’s previous record rain of 13.91 inches set in 1989 from the remnants of Tropical Storm Allison.
The remnants also dumped 14.58 inches of rain on nearby the town of Murfreesboro, Ark., which broke the 1989 record as well.
Much of Barry’s rain hit Arkansas on Monday and Tuesday, and the torrents unleashed severe flash flooding in the southwest part of the state. Flooding cut off access to the main road into Dierks while many businesses were engulfed by floodwaters in the city of Nashville, about 20 miles to the southeast. Water poured into Nashville’s city hall, and both the city’s police station and jail were submerged.
For a time early Tuesday, the area around Nashville was under a flash flood emergency, the most severe kind of flood alert. While the highest rain gauge measurement indicated 16.17 inches in southern Arkansas, Doppler radar estimated as much as 18 inches.
Barry joins hurricanes Harvey, Lane and Florence in establishing new state rainfall records for tropical weather systems:
- Harvey dumped an unheard-of 60.58 inches of rain in Texas in August 2017, the wettest tropical weather system on record in the United States. No storm in recorded history had produced so much water in the United States. In all, the hurricane and its remnants generated 33 trillion gallons of water over the country, enough to engulf Houston in a tank of water 3.1 miles high.
- In August 2018, Lane bombarded Hawaii’s Big Island with 52.02 inches of rain, becoming Hawaii’s rainiest tropical storm and the second-wettest tropical weather system on record in the United States, trailing only Harvey.
- In September 2018, Florence slammed into the Carolinas, dispensing 35.93 inches in North Carolina and 23.63 inches in South Carolina, both state records. Florence’s rainfall in North Carolina was the most for any tropical weather system north of Florida along the East Coast on record, and the fourth most for any state.
As I wrote last year after Florence, records like these are likely to become more common as the Earth warms. Recent studies have shown tropical weather systems over warming oceans are drawing in more water, getting bigger and slowing down — all of which increase their potential rainfall output.
The 2018 National Climate Assessment, published by the Trump administration, concluded that “the amount of rainfall associated with a given storm is . . . projected to increase.”
While Barry produced the record-setting event in Arkansas, its overall rainfall footprint was enormous. It produced more than 9 inches of rain in Alabama, 13 inches in Mississippi and a whopping 23.58 inches in southwest Louisiana — although this was not a tropical storm record, trailing the record of 29.92 inches set in 2001 by half a foot.