Columbus Drowning in Rain

If it seems like the last few years have been particularly wet, you’d be right. Columbus, other Ohio cities and many areas in the Midwest have been seeing record rainfall of late. Yesterday alone, June 19th, Columbus had a daily record 2.65″ of rain, flooding many streets across Franklin County, including I-71 in at least 2 places. Is it indicative of a fluke pattern or a local result of climate change? Let’s look at the numbers and trends more closely.

First of all, let’s look at the 20 wettest years on record through June 19th.
1. 1882: 32.50″
2. 1890: 30.12″
3. 2019: 27.08″
4. 1964: 25.78″
5. 2011: 25.68″
6. 1893: 25.50″
7. 2004: 25.49″
8. 1996: 24.94″
9. 1949: 24.52″
10. 1945: 24.49″
11. 1913: 24.45″
12. 1883: 24.18″
13. 2018: 23.98″
14. 2008: 23.62″
15. 1950: 23.60″
16. 1990: 23.56″
17. 1981: 23.49″
18. 1898: 22.94″
19. 1927: 22.92″
20. 1937: 22.69″

So far, 2019 has had the 3rd highest rain total to date since 1879.

Here are the top 20 wettest full years.
1. 2018: 55.18″
2. 2011: 54.96″
3. 1990: 53.16″
4. 1882: 51.30″
5. 1890: 50.73″
6. 2004: 49.27″
7. 2003: 49.03″
8. 1883: 48.88″
9. 1881: 46.99″
10. 2017: 46.61″
11. 1973: 46.25″
12. 1948: 45.69″
13. 1972: 45.60″
14. 1996: 45.56″
15. 2008: 45.44″
16. 1995: 45.30″
17. 2015: 45.00″
18. 1950: 44.96″
19. 1880: 44.68″
20. 1949: 44.47″

4 years this decade have been among the top 20 wettest years since 1879. Only the 1880’s can match that record, though both the 2000s and 2010s have been wetter, as shown below.

The chart shows that the 2000s were the wettest decade on record, with the 2010s looking to surpass even that total with more than 6 months left to go in 2019. Furthermore, the trend line is clearly up, meaning that Columbus has been getting gradually wetter over the last 140 years, indicating that something else is going on rather than just a random wet period.
Columbus isn’t the only place in the Midwest seeing high levels of rain. There has been widespread, damaging flooding going on across many states, especially this year. Check out some of the articles on this below:
Lake Michigan:
West Virginia:
Midwest Farming:
Mississippi River:

Ironically, few individual months in recent years have featured record precipitation. In the last 10 years, only 1 month- July 2017- appears in the top 25 wettest months. It’s just been more of a constant wet pattern, where most months now have above to well-above normal precipitation.
While climate change can’t account for individual events or specific record rainfalls, the patterns are obvious enough to show that the climate in Columbus and in many other parts of the country is changing over time. This means that we should come to expect more of this in the years to come.

March 7-8, 2008: Columbus’ Greatest Snowstorm

On the eve of the anniversary of Columbus’ biggest snowstorm, I thought I would repost this. Makes you appreciate just how mild and uneventful Winter 2015-2016 has been, doesn’t it?

More than one week prior to the Blizzard of 2008, models had been hinting at a significant storm somewhere in the eastern US. Initially, models took the storm up the East Coast, but as the storm neared, models moved it further and further west and settled upon a track just west/just along the spine of the Appalachians. The track waffled for days, but never strayed far from the Appalachian track. Because the storm was originating near the Gulf of Mexico, models were showing the storm pulling vast amounts of moisture north into cold air over the Ohio Valley. Simply put, the track and conditions were being forecast to be perfect for a significant Ohio snowstorm.

Local forecasters, however, weren’t buying it… at least not at first. Four days before the storm, neither the NWS nor the television forecasters were calling for a significant event. The winter of 2007-08 had brought several storm busts, and none of them seemed ready to buy into another one. So right up to 24-36 hours before the event began, forecasters were calling for 6″ maximum north and west of the I-71 corridor with a mix along the corridor and mostly rain to the south and east. So, right up until the end, many Ohioans were led to believe that this would be a large, but still a run-of-the-mill, snow event.

My personal account of the storm:

On Thursday, March 6th, I worked a 12-hour day at my store. Customers were talking about forecasts of 4-8″, which in central Ohio is significant in and of itself. We typically get one or two 6″ storms, but rarely up to 8″ and almost never more than that. In fact, in all of Columbus history, there have been less than a dozen snow events that broke double digits. Still, in the talking there were whispers that the storm would be more significant. By Thursday night when I arrived home, I discovered the radar was lit up over the South with a growing area of precipitation heading north. Temperatures had already cooled into the low 30s as a cold front had moved through during the day. Forecasts had changed late in the afternoon, and there were many calls of 6-10″ along I-71 by Sunday.

Friday, March 7th was my day off, and I woke up before 8am in the excitement and inticipation of the impending snow. The radar was showing returns north of the Ohio River then and it was already snowing in Cincinnati. Finally, at 9:05am, flurries began to fall and quickly intensified to a steady, windblown snow. A 9:30, I left the house to go to the store. By the time I reached it, the snow had turned heavy and was accumulating quickly. Visibility had dropped to a 1/4 mile at times and many roads were already snowcovered by the time I reached home.

The snow continued throughout the day and forecasts kept changing, finally settling on 10-15″ along the I-71 corridor with little to no mixing. Meanwhile, the snow continued into the evening and overnight hours of the 7th. Although it did lighten somewhat towards midnight, it never completely stopped. By midnight, in any case, 5-7″ had fallen throughout Columbus and central Ohio, which set a daily record.

Saturday, March 8th dawned very wintry. By dawn, no less than 10″ was on the ground and the snow was continuing to fall heavily. Overnight, blizzard warnings had gone up for all of the NWS Wilmington forecast zone as winds were expected to increase during the day. Winds were generally sustained near 20mph in the morning and increased during the late morning/early afternoon. Heavy snow and winds combined to create total whiteout conditions at times, and every county along I-71 from Cincinatti to Cleveland went under a level 2 or level 3 snow emergency.

At 11am, I went for a walk in the snow. It was still falling heavily and roads were nearly impassable with deep snow. Cars in some cases were buried in snow.

By 2pm, a break in the snowfall came as the low moved to the east of Ohio. When it moved into New York, wraparound snow moved back into the area for 3-4 more hours before ending by 6:30pm Saturday afternoon. The sun even poked through the clouds as it set, producing a very picturesque and beautiful winter scene. A fitting end to the day.

All in all, it was a record setting snowstorm all across the state. Columbus’ 20.5″ of snowfall, including 15.5″ on Saturday alone, was the greatest snowstorm of all time for the city. It also established the greatest 24-hour snowfall and the greatest snow depth ever recorded at 18″. No part of the state was spared, as all major cities except Toledo had 10″ or more. Drifts of 5-7 feet deep were reported in many areas.

The storm also brought some areas of the state to record territory in total seasonal snowfall.

Incidentally, 30 years and 2 months prior, the Great Blizzard of 1978 struck. It is somewhat of note that Ohio’s greatest blizzards on record occurred during the “8” years. 1918, 1978, and now 2008.

The first image below is a model snow depth forecast ending on March 9th. The second is a photo of the heavy snow in Columbus during the evening of the 7th.

Snow in Hilltop, Columbus.

Here are some videos during the storm.
Dayton Area
Cleveland Area

For more March weather records, check here: March Weather

December 2012 Weather Recap

December was probably one of the strangest months ever for weather. The first three weeks were extremely warm, being almost 10 degrees above normal. The last 10 days cooled off, but not enough to make up for the warmth. The mean was 39.4 degrees, or 5.9 degrees above normal, and December ended up being the 10th warmest on record.

Although the month was very wet from the beginning (3rd wettest), there was also only a trace of snowfall through the 20th, and it looked like the month might end with below normal snowfall. Then 4 separate snow events dropped 14.9″ the last 10 days, making the month the 4th snowiest December of all time. Not only that, but two of the snowfalls (5.9″ and 4.9″) were two of the top 20 snowfalls for a December.

December 2012 will definitely go down as one of those months that defied expectations.

December 14-15, 1901: Columbus Mega Front

Temperatures through November and early December 1901 had been persistently below normal. 24 days in November had been below normal, and but for a few days very early in December, this pattern continued. However, beginning on December 11th, temperatures began to rise ahead of an approaching weather system. By the 13th, temperatures reached record highs in Columbus when they spiked at 65 degrees. The following day started equally warm with a record high of 65. However, a change was coming. A powerful cold front would move through late on the 14th, and temperatures began to plummet. By midnight, the temperature had dropped all the way down to just 14 degrees, a single day drop of 51 degrees! 1.50″ of precipitation accompanied the frontal passage, with over 4″ wind-driven snow.

On the 15th, the temperature continued to fall, albeit more slowly, and by midnight the reading was -4. This mega-cold front had produced a 69 degree total drop in Columbus, which made it one of the strongest cold fronts ever to move through the Ohio region.

The front would bring a major pattern change. Every day from the 15th-21st featured highs in the teens, which set many daily low maximum records, some of which still stand more than 100 years later.

The winter of 1901-02 was generally cold and snowy in the Ohio Valley, but no future front that winter would come close to December 14-15th of 1901.

December 5-6, 2007: Clipper and Cold

Forecasts on December 4th, 2007 called for a weak, fast-moving clipper to affect much of the Midwest, Great Lakes, Ohio Valley and east to the Mid-Atlantic coast. Most forecasts in Ohio had the area south of I-80 down to just north of the Ohio River getting 1-3″ of snowfall, with a potential max of 2-4″ in south-central Ohio from Dayton to Chillicothe.

Snowfall began in western Ohio at about 10pm and reached central Ohio by midnight on the 4th. It began as flurries and light snow showers but gradually increased in intensity overnight and into the morning of the 5th, becoming heavy at times. By the time that the snowfall ended around 2:30pm in the afternoon, 4-6″ covered most of central Ohio, with the heaviest accumulations right near the I-70 corridor. Another max of snow occurred along a Mansfield to Canton line where a general 4-6″ also occurred.

The night of the 5th-6th brought a cold night for most of Ohio as clear skies after the storm and snow-covered ground sent temperatures far below normal. Most areas saw temperatures in the single digits, and many even fell into the single digits below zero. For Columbus, the low of 9 was the second lowest temperature ever recorded for the 6th of December.