In a report, NOAA noted that the old state record was 81.78 inches from Montebello in 1972, according to the website of the Virginia State Climatologist. But the report said higher amounts had been posted at Philpott Dam in 1996 (86.06 inches), Meadows of Dan in 2003 (83.34 inches), and Norfolk and Chesapeake in 2016 (83.81 and 84.14 inches).
Sperryville’s 2018 rainfall exceeded all of these previous amounts by at least eight inches.
Sperryville was actually one of three locations in Virginia in the running for the state rainfall record in 2018. Montebello posted 89.90 inches of rain, while 87.33 inches were logged near Roanoke. However, NOAA was unable to certify these measurements, as both locations had missing data.
Sperryville, known as a cooperative weather station, or COOP, survived NOAA’s evaluation. A cooperative station is a site that works closely with the National Weather Service to gather data, all of which is done by volunteers or contractors adhering to rigorous standards.
The Sperryville COOP, run by a music teacher since April 1995, was visited in June 2019 for a site inspection. Although some data was missing online, the observer’s paper forms were viewed and deemed complete. The report described the observer’s written records as “extremely meticulous.”
A field study of the location showed the rain gauge was properly situated, and, if anything, some nearby obstructions, such as a large tree 30 feet away, might have led to recordings lower than actual. Nonetheless, it passed the test, and a record was certified.
Thanks to the nearly eight feet of water in Sperryville, Virginia joined four other states in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast that had a location set a maximum rainfall record.
The following locations established maximum annual rainfall records for their states in 2018 (as shown in the map above):
- Maryland: Catonsville, 84.56 inches.
- North Carolina: Mount Mitchell, 139.94 inches.
- South Carolina: Jocassee, 123.45 inches.
- Virginia: Sperryville, 94.43 inches.
- West Virginia: Parsons, 96.99 inches.
In addition to these individual records, rainfall (averaged across every state in the Mid-Atlantic) was the most on record in 2018. In all, nine states had their wettest year on record.
While the convergence of various weather patterns was primarily responsible for the heavy rainfall in 2018, climate change was likely to have intensified the precipitation. The U.S. National Climate Assessment, peer-reviewed studies and analyses from Climate Central, a nonprofit climate communications group, have all documented increases in heavy rainfall in recent decades, particularly in the eastern United States.
Since 2010, several other states have seen locations post maximum annual precipitation records, including Arkansas (2015) and New Jersey (2011). A number of 24-hour heavy precipitation records have also fallen in recent years, in addition to rainfall records from tropical storms and hurricanes. This past summer, Arkansas became the fifth state to set a tropical storm rainfall record in the past two years.