SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska
Column - Commentary

As the Rain Gauge Overflows...


January 09, 2023

Ketchikan, Alaska -
In the last few years, the official arbiter of Alaska weather, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has been revising weather records across the county. Seems they want to make sure the numbers are correct, even when going back a century when the methods of collection were probably less accurate.


Naturally, that is causing some changes in Ketchikan's most cherished records.

Like rainfall.

Nothing says Ketchikan like rainfall. We verily wallow in our precipitation. It is what differentiates us from other areas. We have gills! We swim to work and school! We live underwater!

So, the fact that NOAA is messing with our birthright sense-of-self, is important.

Of course, that NOAA (pronounced Noah) is the arbiter says a lot. What better to describe out whether than to point to "Noah," he of the 40 days and 40 nights of rain (a streak that Ketchikan has indeed exceeded more than a few times in its delugian history).

But I digress.

Turns out, there is good news and bad news. according to NOAA.

The good news is that Ketchikan remains the community with the highest annual rainfall in the United States. Yes, there are some places that have a little more rain, but they are not recognized as "communities." A patch of the Alaska coast north of Yakutat and the top of a mountain in Hawaii are indeed wetter. But if rain falls in the woods and no one is there to complain about it, does it count?


The bad news is that the legendary 201 inches of rain that Ketchikan received in 1949, is no longer recognized by NOAA. According to the weather gnomes, Ketchikan "only" received 184 inches of rain that year, making it the 5th wettest year on record.

Now, we can argue that point until the rainbirds come home, but if NOAA says 184 in 1949, then that's what the number was.

So, what was the all-time Ketchikan record?

First of all, it was a lot more recent than 1949 and we all remember it.

According to NOAA, here is the top 10 wettest years in Ketchikan history

01. 2005  196.1
02. 1953  188.8
03. 1917  186.4
04. 1999  186.2
05. 1949  184.1
06. 2001  183.9
07. 1974  182.9
08. 1939  179.2
09. 1959  178.7
10. 1915  177.2

So, while these are not over the magic 200-inch mark, they are still by all accounts very wet years.  In general, Ketchikan gets a dribble over 150 inches each year. In 2022, Ketchikan got 156 inches, making it the 47 th wettest year between 1910 and 2022.

So, how about the other end of the spectrum, the drought years?

This is a little more difficult to nail down (as is nailing rainfall to a wall). NOAA concedes that in at least 30 different years in the past 112 years it has "incomplete" data. In those years, there could be more than a five percent deviation. In fact, in some years, the incompleteness is nearly total and if you just look at specific years, say, 1997, there was no rain at all. Not sure what happened there, but there were also several years in which there was less than 50 inches which seems extremely unlikely.

So, I have arbitrarily decided to disregard those years from the tally. I can do that.

Here are the "driest" years in Ketchikan's history.

01. 1995  88.4
02. 1989  99.2
03. 1996  100.3
04. 1990  101.4
05. 1998  102.4
06. 1979  102.8
07. 2018  103.0
08. 1912  103.9
09. 1993  105.7
10. 1994  109.2

Just anywhere else on earth, 100 inches of rain would be a monsoon, but here is qualifies as a drought. In fact, the drought of 2018 was called "unprecedented" by utilities folks because we had to stop using our hydro dams and rely on a whole bunch of rented diesel generators. As we can see it was not as desert-like as in 1995 and 1996.

Of course, my favorite part of this is that we all remember years that we're sure were either drier or wetter. But our remembrances count for less than a drop of rain to NOAA.

Two final, precipitory stat-oids worth trotting out.

From July 10 to Aug 7, 1996 there was no rain. None, zippo, nada. For 29 days.

I remember that month. Dust rose, trees spontaneously combusted, and I felt a bit parched. My gills were drying out.

From Sept 19 to Dec 15, 1920, there was rain EVERY day. A total of 88 days.

I do not remember that rainstorm. Even my mother would not have remembered that rainstorm. It was a long time ago. There has been a lot of water over the Ketchikan Lakes Dam since then.

Of course, as I have noted before, in those days weather result recording was a little less rigorous than it is today. The rain "gauge" was downtown near the "fire tower." It was at ground level not far for several local watering holes. Lord knows if any "teeth floating" locals might have "added" to the results.  Just saying.

Personally, I remember two 40+ stretches of rainfall in the past 15 or so years and in both cases there were many, many jokes about arcs and cubits. We called those events "Noahs."

It would seem, historically, those were deluges were not that impressive after all.

If we were to approach an all-time stretch of rain we would be looking at, quite literally, a double NOAA.

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