Every part of Virginia dealt with heavy rain in 2018, but one rural backyard was wetter than all the rest.
A trained weather observer from Sperryville in Rappahannock County caught 94.43 inches of precipitation in 2018, the highest annual total reported anywhere in Virginia in any year.
With 2018 a now soggy memory, a panel of local, regional and national climate experts just declared it an official state record.
At just shy of 8 feet, that was twice the town’s average annual amount of 47.18 inches, per National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data.
Much of that record catch came in the form of rain, but it also includes the liquid equivalent of snow and ice that fell there.
The previous — though uncertified — high annual total in the state happened in 1996, when 86.06 inches fell at Philpott Dam northwest of Martinsville.
NOAA’s State Climate Extremes Committee certified the Sperryville rain total in October after several months of investigation, then published a report Wednesday.
Its members unanimously agreed to give the title to Sperryville, based on the quality of the gauge, the consistent observing practices and supporting meteorological evidence.
The town is about 90 miles northwest of Richmond along the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where rain amounts are enhanced when moist southerly and easterly winds clash with the higher terrain.
The western Piedmont region dealt with flash floods several times during 2018 due to thunderstorms and moisture from tropical systems. The wettest single day at Sperryville was Sept. 18, with 4.21 inches.
After that drenched year, two other mountainous sites emerged as contenders to establish a new state precipitation record: Montebello’s weather station in western Nelson County and a volunteer observer’s gauge several miles southwest of Roanoke. At both places, the totals reported in 2018 surpassed the previous unofficial record at Philpott Dam, but neither was of sufficient quality to establish a state record.
A well-placed gauge somewhere in the mountains might have been able to catch even more rain during 2018 or some other excessively wet year, but no other rivals have been reported or vetted.
Last year also left similar maximum annual precipitation records for several nearby states: Maryland (84.56 inches near Catonsville), North Carolina (139.94 inches at Mount Mitchell), South Carolina (123.45 inches near Jocassee) and West Virginia (96.99 inches near Parsons).
According to NOAA’s website for state records, Virginia’s highest 24-hour rain total is listed as 14.28 inches near Williamsburg from Hurricane Floyd on Sept. 16, 1999. However, Nelson County experienced killer floods and debris flows in August 1969 when the remnants of Camille unleashed more than 28 inches in one night.
Though climate change was outside the scope of this report, the fact that a warmer atmosphere can produce heavier rainstorms could have made recent precipitation extremes more likely.