published Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

When it rains ...

Those who follow weather forecasts in print, on TV or some other form of the media were unlikely to be surprised by the record rainfall in the Chattanooga area on Monday. The possibility, indeed likelihood, of record-shattering precipitation was widely predicted. Still, the deluge and its aftermath are causing hardship and inconvenience for tens of thousands of area residents.

That should not be a surprise -- given the record 9.49 inches of rain in Chattanooga. It was the most rain ever in the city in any 24-hour period and broke the previous record set in 1886 by almost 2 inches, according to Kate Guillet, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tenn. Monday's rains were significant from a meteorological standpoint.

Though rainfall was widespread, the Chattanooga area was the hardest hit by this particular system spawned by Lee, first a tropical storm, then a depression, Guillet said. "It [Monday's storm] was a very unusual event. That amount of rain in that amount of time occurs only about every 500 years."

Monday's rains, which lingered into Tuesday, brought familiar problems to the area. As creeks and rivers filled, mostly minor flooding occurred, prompting many road closures and a few evacuations during the late morning and afternoon on Monday. High winds Monday night exacerbated the problems, bringing down trees and power lines. By dawn Tuesday, tens of thousands of customers of the EPB and other area utility companies were without service. The effort to restore power began promptly.

Even with every available local worker and crews from out of town working, it will take some time to do so. A spokesman or the EPB said late Tuesday afternoon that about 22,700 homes and business were without power, adding that the utility company hoped to restore service to a majority of its customers within 24 hours. Still, it could be Thursday evening before complete restoration is accomplished. Power interruptions, of course, are one of many problems caused by the record-breaking downpour.

Many schools in the area were either closed Monday or started classes on a delayed schedule. And despite the effort of public works and utility company crews in several jurisdictions, some roads in the area remained either covered by water or blocked by trees, wires or other debris. Still, it could have been worse, especially if the record rain had fallen on waterlogged ground.

Kent Frantz, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, Ga., said that flooding in the region could have been far more extensive. The area was extremely dry, he said and many streams, creeks and rivers in the area had low flows. "That gives a whole lot of room to work with ... normally when an area receives this much rain -- 6-10 inches over a widespread area -- you're in trouble."

This time, though, the ground was able to absorb a great deal of moisture and the impact of the record rainfall was relatively minor. In Northwest Georgia, he said, most flooding was relatively minor, though a few areas did experience what he termed moderate flooding. The weather, however, should abet recovery efforts.

"The long-range forecast looks pretty good for a while," Frantz said Tuesday. Those who experienced Monday's abundant rain and who are coping with its aftermath can be thankful for that.

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