Shortly after 4 p.m., Friday, August 11 as storm clouds gathered and swirling winds spurred talk of tornado warnings, a thunderous boom vibrated through our midtown Front Royal home – “Those damn North Koreans must have fallen short of D.C. and hit us,” one would-be comic observed.
Fortunately, it wasn’t a wayward missile launch by Kim Jong Un in his battle of verbose one-upsmanship with our president, but rather a thunderclap that sounded close, VERY close. As all three cats immediately retreated indoors and our dog glanced nervously about, the rains began in earnest – you might say it was raining cats and dogs.
Over the next several hours as I watched the water accumulate in our and neighbor’s yards in what we call Front Royal’s central lowlands the rains came, initially blowing in from the east, then swirling from the south, west and even the north despite the relative protection of our closest neighbors’ home.
Idle for the most part in this exceptionally dry summer, our sump pump began doing its job keeping our circa late-1930s basement dry (historical note: I know that timeframe from the late town official an councilman Walter Duncan, who pinned that construction date down to 1938 on a visit one day as he dipped into that deep reservoir of local knowledge, recalling the history of our block home by home as they each became parts of the Town of Front Royal.) I wondered what Walter would have thought of these rains – how it might have stacked up against other epic storms he had witnessed over the decades.
So, how epochal was it?
The following day, with the ground drying I decided to find out.
After a few false starts at the National Weather Service website, I found the “24-hour precipitation total” link and typed in our zip code. The Front Royal-Warren County Airport came up as the measuring location; and what I saw was somewhat shocking. Once while living near the river in Shenandoah River Estates I’d come across a rain-measuring device. One time back in the late 1990s when we’d had a day’s worth of rain, intermittently driving, and never less than moderately hard my rain gauge had recorded 4-3/4 inches over a 24-hour period; and about another inch-and-a-quarter over the next 12 hours.
On August 11, 2017, over a 3-hour-and-40 minute period between 4:35 p.m. and 8:15 p.m., 7.3 inches of rain was recorded here. An additional .08-inches fell over the final hour-and-40 minutes, raising the total over 5-hours-and-40-minutes to 7.38 inches.
The peak rains came between 5:55 p.m. and 6:55 p.m., when 3.9 inches were recorded. The National Weather Service broke its measurements down into 20-minute segments; for brevity we will break the rainfall sequence into three, one-hour-20-minute segments and the final one-hour-40 minutes as the rain tapered off:
- 4:35 p.m. to 5:35 p.m. – 1.22 inches;
- 5:55 p.m. to 6:55 p.m. – 3.90 inches;
- 7:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. – 2.18 inches;
- 8:35 p.m. to 9:55 p.m. – .08 of an inch.
That folks, is a LOT of rain!!!
Someone close by who had recently spent eight days in Portland, Oregon during a record-breaking heat wave that included three straight days between 101 and 107 degrees – yes, in the Pacific Northwest – observed they heard reports that such radically changing weather patterns, including lengthy droughts punctuated by increasingly violent storms were likely the wave of the future.
Well, you know what the ever-wise “they” once said – oh wait, it wasn’t “they”, it was former Washington Redskin football coach George Allen – “The Future is NOW”.