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20 states had record rainfall in 2019—see what this intense year means for you

  • 20 states had record rainfall in 2019—see what this intense year means for you

    2019 was a year of extremes for weather in the U.S., and for the world at large: while tropical storms, ongoing wildfires, and record-breaking droughts played out across the globe, many areas in the U.S. were facing unprecedented precipitation levels. 2019 precipitation in the contiguous U.S. was 34.78 inches; this makes 2019 the second-wettest year on record nationally at 4.84 inches above the 20th-century average (29.94 inches). Only nine states had less rainfall than their 20th-century average in 2019. May 2019, in particular, was the second-wettest month overall in U.S. history.

    Five states had their wettest year on record in 2019, (meaning from 1895 to now), and 15 others ranked it in their top ten. To dig into this record year, Stacker consulted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information Statewide Time Series, released in January 2020. Forty-nine states are 2019 ranked here according to how much their 2019 precipitation diverged from average rainfall in the 20th century (1901–2000) or, in the case of Alaska, average rainfall since weather recording began in that state (1925–2000). 2019 data is not yet available for Hawaii.

    According to the NOAA data, many of these states saw increases in both extreme rain events and extreme drought events, simultaneously—interrelated climate events that are only expected to repeat and grow over the 21st century. Many states that experienced one of their wettest years yet in 2019 are now headed into prolonged drought periods. Some states typically characterized as majorly “wet”—including Washington and Florida—had overall dry years. Each of the 50 state summaries presented by NOAA’s National Environmental Center noted the unmistakable hand of climate change in increasingly erratic weather patterns across the country: “Historically unprecedented warming” levels will increase rates of both drought and precipitation, with extreme events in either category expected to become more frequent, and more intense.

    Such dramatic fluctuations in weather extremes cannot be viewed as isolated events, either. As the NOAA notes, “Climatic factors such as temperature, rainfall, snowfall, cloudiness, and winds have a significant impact on many aspects of the nation's economy as well as human health and quality of life.” Among the sectors cited as reliant on predictable weather are ski resorts, housing construction, energy usage, and farming. Further emphasizing the broad reach climate has on daily life, the NOAA is planning to develop public indices cross-secting weather events with their effects on transportation, retail, tourism, and human health.

    Read on to discover what 2019 had in store for your state’s precipitation levels, and what that means for agriculture, infrastructure, and a variety of other industries.

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  • #49. Washington

    - 2019 precipitation (Jan. to Dec.): 32.93 inches
    - Divergence from 100-year average (1901–2000): -9.1 inches (average: 42.03 inches)
    - 2019 rank (1895–2019): #9 driest year
    - Wettest year on record: 1996 (54.95 inches of rainfall, 12.92 inches above 100-year average)

    Rainfall was so low in Washington state this year that in May 2019 Governor Jay Inslee announced a drought emergency, encompassing 24 watersheds within the state. Inslee noted that the lack of precipitation would have ripple effects on agricultural irrigation, public drinking water, and fisheries in particular. The state is still attempting to maintain its water supply under the Drought Declaration, which will not expire until April 2020.

  • #48. Georgia

    - 2019 precipitation (Jan. to Dec.): 47.79 inches
    - Divergence from 100-year average (1901–2000): -2.28 inches (average: 50.07 inches)
    - 2019 rank (1895–2019): #51 driest year
    - Wettest year on record: 1964 (70.46 inches of rainfall, 20.39 inches above 100-year average)

    A “flash drought” hit Georgia in September 2019, the result of accumulating dryness and heat throughout the late summer. Though the drought eased by December, greater drought intensity is predicted in the state’s future. Communities in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin are anticipated to be particularly affected by a shortened public water supply.

  • #47. Oregon

    - 2019 precipitation (Jan. to Dec.): 30.01 inches
    - Divergence from 100-year average (1901–2000): -2.21 inches (average: 32.22 inches)
    - 2019 rank (1895–2019): #45 driest year
    - Wettest year on record: 1996 (48.87 inches of rainfall, 16.65 inches above 100-year average)

    Relatively low rainfall in Oregon caused most of the state to be in “moderate drought” by 2019’s end, thanks in large part to a dry summer. As reservoir storage rates are still at a normal level, the population’s public water supply is not projected to be negatively impacted. Wildfires, however, are predicted to increase in frequency and scale in the coming years, thanks to increasing dryness across the state.

  • #46. South Carolina

    - 2019 precipitation (Jan. to Dec.): 45.71 inches
    - Divergence from 100-year average (1901–2000): -2.18 inches (average: 47.89 inches)
    - 2019 rank (1895–2019): #50 driest year
    - Wettest year on record: 1964 (69.32 inches of rainfall, 21.43 inches above 100-year average)

    Nearly two-thirds of South Carolina’s population felt the effects of drought by October 2019. A lack of rain in August and September diminished harvests in corn and soybeans. Additionally, peanuts were hit hard, with maturation of the crop slowed without proper moisture.

  • #45. Florida

    - 2019 precipitation (Jan. to Dec.): 52.04 inches
    - Divergence from 100-year average (1901–2000): -1.61 inches (average: 53.65 inches)
    - 2019 rank (1895–2019): #49 driest year
    - Wettest year on record: 1947 (72.94 inches of rainfall, 19.29 inches above 100-year average)

    Tropical Storm Nestor hit Florida in October 2019, bringing flooding and thunderstorms and wreaking around $150 million in damage. Despite the autumn wetness, however, 2019 still concluded as an overall dry year for Florida. Looking to the future, increases in both extreme rainfall and drought are predicted, with decreased public water availability, wildfires, and damage to Florida’s unique ecosystems thought to be impending.

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  • #44. Delaware

    - 2019 precipitation (Jan. to Dec.): 41.91 inches
    - Divergence from 100-year average (1901–2000): -1.44 inches (average: 43.35 inches)
    - 2019 rank (1895–2019): #56 driest year
    - Wettest year on record: 1948 (60.05 inches of rainfall, 16.7 inches above 100-year average)

    Just an inch and a half or so below average precipitation was enough to harm Delaware’s agricultural economy in 2019. Key crops including soybeans and rye yielded low harvests after facing dry soil.

  • #43. New Mexico

    - 2019 precipitation (Jan. to Dec.): 13.47 inches
    - Divergence from 100-year average (1901–2000): -0.52 inches (average: 13.99 inches)
    - 2019 rank (1895–2019): #57 driest year
    - Wettest year on record: 1941 (26.57 inches of rainfall, 12.58 inches above 100-year average)

    New Mexico’s year largely veered away from major precipitation (or drought) events, ending with a rainfall level only slightly below average. Precipitation during the spring months, however, is projected to decrease across the state in coming years, lowering water supply reservoirs, increasing wildfires, and harming grasslands (and by extension, livestock).

  • #42. Idaho

    - 2019 precipitation (Jan. to Dec.): 23.36 inches
    - Divergence from 100-year average (1901–2000): -0.51 inches (average: 23.87 inches)
    - 2019 rank (1895–2019): #62 driest year
    - Wettest year on record: 1996 (32.1 inches of rainfall, 8.23 inches above 100-year average)

    Late spring and early summer were particularly wet for Idaho, but despite the frequent storms, the state still ended with an overall dry year. Fluctuating weather patterns are expected to ramp up in Idaho, with more frequent heavy precipitation events predicted alongside more frequent drought. Besides affecting the state’s agricultural industry, this will increase the risk and intensity of wildfires.

  • #41. Texas

    - 2019 precipitation (Jan. to Dec.): 26.83 inches
    - Divergence from 100-year average (1901–2000): -0.25 inches (average: 27.08 inches)
    - 2019 rank (1895–2019): #61 driest year
    - Wettest year on record: 2015 (41.23 inches of rainfall, 14.15 inches above 100-year average)

    Despite Texas tallying in at a slightly below average rainfall rate for 2019, the year brought one of the most significant precipitation events in recent history to the state: Tropical Storm Imelda. Imelda hit in September, pouring between 30 and 44 inches of rain across Houston and Beaumont. The storm caused significant flooding, killed five people, stranded vehicles on I-10, and imposed $2 billion in damage.

  • #40. Maryland

    - 2019 precipitation (Jan. to Dec.): 42.75 inches
    - Divergence from 100-year average (1901–2000): 0.16 inches (average: 42.59 inches)
    - 2019 rank (1895–2019): #61 wettest year
    - Wettest year on record: 2018 (64.62 inches of rainfall, 22.03 inches above 100-year average)

    Maryland had a particularly wet year thanks to Tropical Storm Melissa, which hit in October and flooded many coastal towns, causing widespread street closures and forcing visitors to wade through the annual United States Sailboat Show. Winter and spring precipitation rates are expected to increase in Maryland in the future, causing particular concern for the state’s many urban coastal areas.

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