Cleveland, OH Sets Record for Annual Precipitation

Table courtesy of the Cleveland National Weather Service.

It has been quite a wet year in Cleveland, OH… and there are over two months remaining before the calendar turns.  The National Weather Service office in Cleveland is monitoring the progress toward new records with daily updates of the annual precipitation total.  The snapshot above is from this morning and includes all precipitation for the year until midnight last night.  (It’s raining more today, so these numbers will rise.)  As you can see, Cleveland has already broken their record while surrounding cities are still climbing.  If you’re not familiar with the geography of the area, you can refer to the map below.

As you can see, the table at the top is organized geographically with Toledo (west) and Erie (east) flanking Cleveland.  Mansfield, Akron/Canton, and Youngstown (west-to-east, respectively) all lie south of Cleveland.

So what has led to this record-setting year in Cleveland?  Well, certainly the weather patterns promoted rain in the area as opposed to Texas where high pressure and dry conditions have led to an extreme drought.  On the other hand, breaking a record requires a little bit of luck as well.  As you can see from the table, while Cleveland has broken their record, none of the surrounding cities are within 5 inches of their record.  Also, note that Cleveland (55.53) has totaled 7 more inches of rain than the next-closest tally (Akron/Canton 48.51).

Some might point to Lake Erie as the culprit, claiming that lake-effect snow has driven up the total.  However, snow is only included in these totals after it is melted into liquid water.  So 6 inches of snow becomes only  about 0.6 inches of precipitation.  In other words, snow isn’t going to play a big role in these totals.

That doesn’t mean Lake Erie isn’t partially responsible.  You can have lake-effect (or lake-enhanced) rainfall.  And it is indeed rain that drives these tallies up.  The NWS office has reviewed the year in more detail and points to a few key dates for aiding in this new record.  They note that lake-enhanced rains occurred on August 14, bringing 3.51 inches of rain to Cleveland in one day.  Surprisingly, that wasn’t the wettest day of the year.

As mentioned earlier, you need a little bit of (bad) luck to get this type of record – especially two months before the time period is over.  The heaviest rainfall comes from intense thunderstorms – the type of storms that make you turn on your windshield wipers full blast.  Thunderstorms cover a small area when compared to hurricanes or widespread snow events, so if you’re not right underneath them, you may not experience the heavy rains.  On the other hand, if these thunderstorms continually roll over your area (and you have a weather observation site recording data), you can get some impressive rainfall totals.  This is why Cleveland has broken their record while the surrounding cities will need another month or so to get close to theirs.

On July 19, thunderstorms trained (meaning thunderstorms rolled one after another in the same spot) over Cleveland Hopkins International Airport where the official observations are kept.  The site record 3.54 inches of rain for the day with 3.19 inches falling in a three-hour period early in the morning.  This was the wettest day of the year, but there were other days like this where thunderstorms just happened to pass over the observation site in Cleveland.

If you need evidence of this geographic variability in rainfall totals, just look closely back at that table. Notice anything interesting? Like…

  • The previous record in Cleveland occurred in 1990, same as Akron/Canton and Mansfield.  But 1990 is 5th place in Youngstown and not in the top 5 in Toledo or Erie.  Also, look at the totals.  Cleveland had 53.83 inches that year while Mansfield and Akron/Canton topped 65 inches. That’s a huge difference.
  • Toledo set their record in 1950, which is #3 in Cleveland and #4 in both Erie and Youngstown.  1950 is not in the top 5 for Akron/Canton or Mansfield.
  • Akron/Canton’s 2nd highest total came in 2003 – a year not found in the top 5 of any other city on the table.  The same can be said for Mansfield’s 2nd highest total in 1986 and Erie’s 2nd highest total in 1979.
  • The top 5 highest precipitation totals for Erie and Mansfield are all above 50 inches.  Toledo and Youngstown combine for one year above 50 inches and it was still lower than any total in the top 5 of Erie and Mansfield!

So keep this in mind the next time you hear of record-breaking precipitation.  I can be highly variable from one rain gauge to the next.

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