Another regional weather record falls

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A driver makes a splash on Kelly Drive on March 15, 2010. The most recent storm made this rainiest 12-month period in Philadelphia since 1873. (Akira Suwa / Staff Photographer)

A month after setting new standards for whiteness, the region is setting new ones for wetness.

With yesterday's rains, this became the wettest 12-month period in Philadelphia since record-keeping began in 1873, and February and March almost certainly will become the wettest such two-month period, with well over a foot of precipitation.

"The farmers would say, 'We know,' " said Andrew Frankenfeld, an educator at Penn State's Montgomery County agricultural extension service.

And so do a lot of folks with basements.

"We just transferred from slow-moving snowstorms to slow-moving rainstorms," said Anthony Gigi, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Mount Holly.

Rains that were aiming their peak ferocity at South Jersey were expected to taper off this afternoon, but not before swelling some area streams past banks-full. Conspiring with the full moon, the coastal storm looked to set off at least moderate tidal flooding at the Shore.

However, thanks to a variety of circumstances, including the subtly budding trees under the brooding skies, catastrophic flooding was unlikely.

While 6-1/2 feet of snow piled on the region this winter, it disappeared gently and peacefully.

And more recently, the ever-increasing spring demands of the ready-to-pop trees and other foliage have acted as so many giant rolls of paper towels, sponging up the water.

But foliage has its limits.

"The ground is holding as much as it can right now," said Joanna Dionne, national hydrologic information coordinator for the National Weather Service in Silver Spring, Md.

The weather is forecast to make a dramatic and pleasant lurch toward May later in the week, but the storm traffic isn't necessarily over, warned Gigi.

Since the fall, waters in the equatorial Pacific have been unusually warm during one of the strongest El Niño events on record.

That has contributed to the 12-month precipitation record. As of yesterday, 62.17 inches of precipitation had fallen in the previous 365 days - more than five feet. That broke the old 365-day record of 61.41 inches, for the period ending Oct. 1, 1933.

By warming the overlying air and generating strong west-to-east winds, El Niño has juiced the storm track across the southern United States with widespread impacts.

"Over a third of the country has very saturated soil at this point," said Mary Mullusky, chief of the weather service's hydrologic services branch. El Niño has weakened, but is still at moderate strength.

The cosmic winter snows in the mid-Atlantic and subsequent rains have jacked up water tables, with results that are seeping into basements.

"We're going out of our minds," said Dianna Gallen, product manager for BQ West Basement Solutions in Erdenheim, Montgomery County, which works on both side of the river. Yes, business is good.

The farmers are weathering the storms, at least so far, although the rains have slowed their manure-spreading schedules.

"It hasn't really affected farmers too much yet," said Frankenfeld. "If this continues another month, then we're going to start delaying some planting. It is frustrating."

But it could be worse, he added, and it was - just last month. "This was probably one of the more welcome springs," he said.

Even the rain isn't so bad. From the farmers' point of view, he said, "at least it's not white."


Contact staff writer Anthony R. Wood at 610-313-8210 or twood@phillynews.com.
Inquirer staff writer Edward Colimore contributed to this article.

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