Sure, the sun’s out today—that strange, rarely seen ball of gas. It’s spent much of the past several months—nay, year—hiding behind rain clouds. That’s because, according to James Everett, senior manager of TVA’s River Forecast Center, we just experienced a record-breaking rainy year in 2018—and January has carried on with the trend.
“The year 2018 was the wettest year on record going back 130 years,” Mr.
Everett said. “We had a Valleywide average of 67 inches, eclipsing the prior 1973 record by two inches—we cruised right by it. We even had locations in the North Carolina mountains receive up to 100 inches of rain.”
The 2018 rains were different than the 1973 rains in that they were more consistent and spread out. “There was never a big flooding event, as there was in March of ’73,” he said.
Water levels in the Tennessee River system are high due to a very large amount of rain received in the second half of December, as well as a rainy January. “January rainfall is at 120 percent of normal, and runoff is 170 of normal,” Mr. Everett said. “The ground is so saturated from all the rain, it drives runoff levels up.”
To keep up with all that water, the river forecasters are using the tributaries to store flood waters, then releasing the water down through the Tennessee River to get ready for the next big event. “Spilling and sluicing at Cherokee, Douglas, Norris and Fontana was more common than normal this year—it doesn’t normally happen to that extent, but we had to release all that water that's been stored.”
Spilling and sluicing are happening on all the main stem river dams, from Fort Loudoun to Kentucky, and—because of the sheer volume of water moving through the system—river flows are quite strong, creating dangerous conditions below dams. “People need to heed warning signs, and know that conditions are especially hazardous for waders. We’ll look forward to spring, when we can start to fill up the tributaries and create better conditions for trout fisherman.”
Between now and then? Conditions look favorable for more rain. “We’re looking for rains in the three-inch range late next week,” Mr. Everett said. “The rainy trend looks like it might carry on.”