Columbia sees its third-wettest year on record

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 | 6:11 p.m. CST

As 2008 draws to a close and mid-Missourians ponder how this year will be remembered, record rainfall might come to mind.

As of Tuesday, Columbia had experienced the third wettest year on record, and — with more precipitation forecast by Thursday — 2008 is poised to rise in the ranks.

Highest yearly levels of precipitation in Columbia

1. 1993 - 62.49 inches of annual precipitation

2. 1985 - 55.37 inches of annual precipitation

3. 2008 - 55.11 inches of annual precipitation
(as of
4:30 p.m. Tuesday)

4. 1892 - 54.62 inches of annual precipitation

5. 1990 - 53.62 inches of annual precipitation

6. 1984 - 50.70 inches of annual precipitation

7. 1973 - 50.50 inches of annual precipitation

8. 1969 - 50.34 inches of annual precipitation

9. 1927 - 49.70 inches of annual precipitation

10. 1981 - 48.53 inches of annual precipitation

Source: National Weather Service

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According to the National Weather Service, Columbia Regional Airport had seen 55.11 inches of rain from Jan. 1 through 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Rain last week helped 2008 climb from the fourth spot up to third by surpassing the 1892 mark of 54.62 inches. And while second place isn't far off, at 55.37 inches that fell in 1985, the top spot belongs to 1993, when 62.49 inches contributed to epic flooding along the Missouri River.

This fall — which the Weather Service considers to be September, October and November—was the 21st wettest in Columbia since record-keeping began in 1889.

With 10.77 inches, this year's September was the fourth wettest on record, according to the Weather Service.

But September isn't the only month this year that saw above-average precipitation.

"We’ve gone four consecutive seasons with above-average precip," said Pat Guinan, MU extension climatologist with the Commercial Agriculture Program. "The totals just started adding up. Since December 2007, we’ve only had three months with below-average precip."

An extremely wet September can largely be linked to the remnants of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

"We had two remnants of hurricanes come over Missouri — Hurricane Gustav and then Hurricane Ike — and they dumped a lot of rain," said Julie Phillipson of the Weather Service office in St. Louis.

Ike, especially, played an important part this wet year, Phillipson said.

“When Ike came over Missouri, it was still maintaining tropical depression status,” Phillipson said. “Most areas in central Missouri and southwest Illinois received upwards of 5 inches of precipitation just from the remnants of Ike alone.”

Phillipson also attributed a large chunk of the rain to early spring systems from the Southwest.

"We got a lot of storm systems coming in from the Southwest," she said. "So that kind of spiked it up a little then and gave us a little bit during the beginning of the year."

In addition to the airport, the precipitation is recorded at MU's Sanborn Field. This weather station, part of a cooperative network, had measured nearly 62 inches this year through Monday, Guinan said. The rain totals vary between the airport and Sanborn Field because of their respective locations, and the airport measurement has become a standard because it has been in use for longer than the MU one.

Besides precipitation, 2008 has had notable temperature trends. Columbia has had the coolest year since 1997, Guinan said. Only January and June this year have seen above-average temperatures, Guinan said, with the rest of the months at or below average.

"We had so much precipitation during the growing season, and that allowed for high evaportranspiration rates," Guinan said. "Since there was no drought stress, a significant amount of the sun's energy was used to evaporate moisture from soil surfaces and vegetation. Generally, this helped keep maximum temperatures at bay."

This year's precipitation doesn't help forecast next year's rainfall, but Guinan pointed out that next year's soil should be nicely saturated.

"The soil moisture is running above normal," Guinan said. "That’s good news, especially when it comes to farmers when the spring planning initiates next year."

"Water resources above the ground will also be in good shape as we start out next year," he said."

As for the last weeks of 2008, if precipitation comes in the form of snow, it might make only a small difference. Precipitation is typically found in snow at a 10-to-1 or 12-to-1 ratio, based upon whether the snow is on the wet side or dry side, Phillipson said.

For example, for every 10 to 12 inches of snow that fall, only about 1 inch of water is left when snow melts.

With more than 7 inches to go, 2008 is a long way from the top spot. Phillipson is skeptical that the two weeks left in the year will yield a lot more rain.

"It would take a pretty significant system to give us enough precipitation to break that record," Phillipson said.

Guinan said it's "highly likely" Columbia will surpass  the second-wettest year by the end of 2008, "but it's unlikely we’ll beat the level of 1993."

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