We had more than enough rain to wash away 2021. For a while, it seemed as though we would break a record around the Mobile Bay area. Most of the big rains came in just a few months in the middle of the year. How did we end up? It was not record amounts, but totals were way above average. In no year should you expect the rainfall to equal the average. The average is just an average of the past, not a mandate for the future.
Let’s take a road trip along Interstate 10 from Jacksonville, Florida, to Los Angeles to sample rainfall totals for 2021. This moves us through several climate zones, where average rainfall will vary.
Starting in Florida, Jacksonville’s total rainfall was 58 inches, just a few inches above average. In the capital city of Tallahassee, rainfall was below average by almost a foot. The total there was 49 inches. Pensacola gets the golden galoshes award with a rain total of 88 inches. That was 20 inches above average, but shy of the record by five inches. Mobile was 16 inches above average, ending up with 83 inches. New Orleans beat out Mobile, with rainfall of 86 inches.
Into Texas, the numbers quickly lower. Houston captured 49 inches of rain, a half-foot below average. San Antonio was near average, with 35 inches of rain. Tucson, Arizona, was above average by a large percentage — 50 percent — but in Tucson, that means a total of only 15 inches! Los Angeles finished the year with recent downpours to boost rain totals to 12 inches, slightly above average. For the adventurous driver who heads north on Interstate 5 to end up in Seattle, the 2021 total precipitation was 44 inches of liquid water, which includes nine inches of melted snow.
Just focusing on the Gulf Coast numbers shows that Mobile is not the “wettest city” in the country. That was a declaration in an online magazine years ago. As I wrote in Lagniappe in the good old days (before COVID) in September 2019, there were a bunch of caveats to being the wettest city. Mobile is not the wettest place when you consider unpopulated locations in the mountains in the Pacific Northwest or in Hawaii. Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii, soaked up 138 inches of rain in 2021.
Mobile does not get rain as frequently as Seattle does, but true to the cliche, in Mobile, when it rains, it pours. Even with our famous downpours, the “wettest city” moniker was such only by a fraction of an inch for a limited time. We are not regularly that much wetter, if at all, than other Central Gulf Coast locations.
Reliable rainfall reports tend to be those from government-maintained weather stations at airports, so very few cities have an actual reporting station. If a rain gauge is not in your backyard, it won’t always represent the reality in your neighborhood.
Alan Sealls is chief meteorologist at NBC15 and an adjunct meteorology professor at the University of South Alabama.
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