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Weather Questions tagged “rain”

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Question: How did monthly precipitation in 2016 compare to that in 2015? — Tony Stephenson

Answer: We hadn't finished 2016 entirely when this answer was drafted, so some small changes are possible. However, for the entire year at RDU, 2015 brought 57.1 inches, while 2016 had totaled up to 50.9 inches so far. That makes both years quite wet, as the "normal" yearly rainfall (defined by the 1981-2010 average) is 43.3 inches. Months that were especially different between the two years included May, when 2016 saw 3.2 inches more than 2015, July (with 3.1 inches more in 2016), November (in this case, 2016 saw 6.5 inches less than 2015, and was especially dry while the same month in 2015 was especially wet). As of this writing, December 2016 had received 4.3 inches less rain than the previous year.
Jan. 1, 2017 | Tags: normals, past weather, rain

Question: You've given several good answers about percentages, thank you for explaining. I would like to know the geographic boundaries you speak of when you give your forecasts. I love being a biker, but not a wet one. — Tim

Answer: The probabilities of precipitation that we show in graphs, 7-day "pullouts," and as the number you see in the main 7-day forecast on our web site are numbers meant to apply to the Raleigh area. In many cases, they apply reasonably well to most of our viewing area as well, but there are certainly times when a frontal boundary or some other weather feature leads us to expect higher or lower chances for some other parts of the region. In these cases, we might show a map of probabilities that highlights how they vary over both time and horizontally, or might mention verbally (and in the written descri9ption online) that chances will be higher east of Raleigh, lower to the southwest, and so on. In addition, if you change the location of the forecast using the box just above the main 7-day forecast, the probability will be adjusted based on the location you select, and may be higher or lower than the one you see for the Raleigh area.
Dec. 21, 2016 | Tags: maps & codes, rain,

Question: Who decides what constitutes a 10 or 100-year rainfall event? We seem to be getting a lot of 100-year rainstorms lately, leading me to suspect that our stormwater runoff regulations need to be updated to reflect a new post-global warming reality. — Oak Rapp

Answer: The values of "average recurrence interval" or "return period" for rainfall over a given duration are statistical calculations based on historical data, and are compiled and published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service in a series of documents called NOAA Atlas 14. The results can also be accessed and viewed online via a web page called the Precipitation Frequency Data Server (easily found with a web search), where you can drill down to any particular location to find the interval associated with any given rainfall amount and duration, along with a confidence interval of what the true return interval is likely to be based on the available period of record and the uncertainties associated with such analyses. Of course, as conditions change over time, those numbers will be recalculated to reflect new data. It is worth keeping in mind that while the terms like "return interval" imply that a 100-year rain rate should only happen every 100th year, it really means that in a given year, there is a one percent chance of that rate occurring. That doesn't preclude a similar event happening just a few years later. Of course, if they continue to happen at rather frequent intervals, that will eventually cause the calculated recurrence intervals to become smaller. Climatologists have to balance the desire to have such calculations reflect current reality against the possibility of changing the numbers too much based on what may turn out to be a short-term anomaly that isn't representative of longer term trends.
Dec. 9, 2016 | Tags: cool sites, normals, rain

Question: We live near Wake Crossroads in NE Raleigh. Like today, when storms come through Raleigh, it will be raining all around us, but we will not get any rain. Is there something unique about this area that it misses a lot of rain storms? — Jan

Answer: We haven't seen anything to indicate that should be the case, as average monthly and yearly rainfall totals for that general area appear similar to most surrounding locations. Of course, in any given system passing across the region, there can be considerable variability in rainfall amounts due to the typical fluctuations over time and distance associated with many weather features. On the Sunday afternoon that you wrote in, for example, dry air in the lower atmosphere evaporated a lot of the precipitation that fell during much of the daylight hours, especially from around Raleigh northeastward, but as the lower atmosphere became more humid, rain became steadier and heavier heading into the evening and overnight. Observations from a pair of personal weather stations in your immediate vicinity, in agreement with radar rain estimates for that period, indicate you should have ended up with around 3-6 tenths of an inch of rain, similar to much of our area with that disturbance. We've found that the variability of rainfall amounts, and the availability of radar displays to track systems passing through the area (often affecting part but not all of the region) has led people from pretty much every part of our viewing area to have the same perception - that something routinely and uniquely blocks precipitation, storms, etc from their particular location.
Dec. 8, 2016 | Tags: general meteorology, rain

Question: How did rainfall totals compare between Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Floyd? — Dustin R

Answer: There are some similarities and important differences, especially with regard to distribution. The areas that received over a foot of rain from Floyd were focused over the northern coastal plain and along to just inland of the southern coast. Those kinds of totals from Matthew were mainly focused over the southeastern Sandhills and southern coastal plain. In each case a large section of the eastern third or so of the state received over 8 inches, and there were sizable pockets with over 15 inches. You can compare similar contour maps of rain from each storm by going to for a Matthew map, and scrolling dow a bit at for a Floyd map.
Nov. 30, 2016 | Tags: cool sites, hurricanes, past weather, rain

Question: The topic is "percentage chance of rain". I know that high is bad, and low is good, but I don't know what it means. Does it define location? Duration? Both? — Steve McKinnon

Answer: Do keep in mind that "bad" and "good" in this case depends on context - when rain is badly needed, for example, and high probability of rain would be "good." In any event, the probability of precipitation can be thought of principally as a statement of confidence that a certain amount of precipitation will occur at a given location (this can be a point or a larger area) within a given time span (an hour, say, or a 12-hour period, or an entire calendar day. The percent chance of rain that you encounter most often in the absence of any additional conditions being specified is usually that likelihood that measurable rain (meaning one-hundredth of an inch or more) will occur during the "daytime" or "nighttime" over an area usually consisting of an area of a county or few counties' size, with a zero percent chance meaning rain is not expected at all, while 100% means it is essentially certain to occur. A 40% chance, for example, would mean that measurable rain would be expected to occur about 3 out of 10 times that a similar weather pattern is in place over the forecast area. In most cases, the probability value doesn't provide a lot of information regarding duration or exact locations where rain will or will not occur within the area covered by that forecast value. Usually, there will be additional wording with the forecast to address that - for example, you might hear a reference to frequent showers or a day-long rain, or to isolated showers or a brief shower in spots, that would give some context regarding how often or how persistent rain could be. In some situations, especially shoe involving warm, unstable summertime weather with convective showers or thunderstorms that arise largely from the heating of the day, the probability can indeed also describe roughly how much of the area might be expected to receive the hit and miss coverage, though it's usually difficult or impossible to specify exactly which locations will and will not be rained on.
Nov. 27, 2016 | Tags: general meteorology, maps & codes, rain

Question: I have a question about the cumulative rainfall amounts. Does being nearer the center of the city affect the rainfall? For example, the RDU rainfall shows little rain since Matthew, and that is what we have here. However, before that, from 8/15 - 10/10, it shows somewhat below average but a reasonable ratcheting up. However, where I live, about a mile south of I 540 north, we had only a few sprinkles in that time and I barely had to cut my grass. Right now, it looks like my azaleas are under significant stress and may not make it, something I would not really expect for a cumulative rainfall that is above normal. — Margaret

Answer: The cumulative total graphs on our web site show the values specifically for the RDU airport. While these often even out reasonably well for the surrounding region over time, for a few weeks or a few months it is quite possible for amounts to vary a good deal over fairly short distances. Looking over radar and gauge based estimates for the general area around the airport does make it appear pretty substantial rainfall fell in most places during a number of periods through August and September. As you noted, since the very heavy rains of Matthew ended there have only been 2-3 additional episodes with rainfall, each of which were quite light and scattered. That has left what was initially very wet topsoil and subsoil values across the region on the decline. By the time you wrote to ask, crop soil moisture readings were down to the "slightly dry to favorably moist category" and evaporation rates had notably exceeded precipitation rates in recent weeks. With the uppermost soil levels drying at varying rates across the area, it seems possible your azaleas are responding to a short-term lack of water, though we can't really address whether some other factor may be affecting your particular plants.
Nov. 14, 2016 | Tags: rain,

Question: What were the primary factors (wind, total rain, rain intensity) that brought down trees in the Raleigh area during Hurricane Matthew? Are there any weather sites that showed rainfall amounts during shorter periods than 24 hours during the effects of this event in Raleigh area? I'll take 24 hour totals if that is only thing available. — Dave Crotts

Answer: It's a little difficult to separate the factors you noted for the Triangle area, where top wind gusts ranged on the order of 40-50 mph. Over a brief period of time, those kind of peak winds don't tend to take down many trees, but with frequent gusts over a period of time, together with heavy rain (around 4-9" for the Triangle) that both rapidly saturated the soil and coated the leaves and bark to make the trees a little more top-heavy, and given that most leaves were still on (adding to the surface area acted on by the strong winds), a good number of trees were toppled. Both rain amounts and wind gusts were somewhat higher to the south and southeast of the Triangle.

You can see a map of peak gust values at, and Matthew-related precipitation at

As for seeing rainfall amounts over shorter periods, you should be able to find hourly amounts for airport stations using the "Almanac" section of our web site. Go to the "Get Historical Data" area and choose the date the storm moved in. When you click send you'll got to a page with hourly observations from RDU at the bottom of the page. there is also a section along the right side of the page that you can use to switch sites and view data from other cities around the area.

Nov. 9, 2016 | Tags: hurricanes, past weather, rain, winds,

Question: Can you tell me the daily rainfall amounts in Roxboro from 10/5 to 10/10/16? — Linda Ward

Answer: We looked that up using the "Daily Data Listing" feature of the Applied Climate Information System web site at - you can check such information for Roxboro and many other sites around the region and nationally. In your case, the rainfall reported for Roxboro on those days was, in order from 5-10 Oct, 0, 0, .21, 1.07, 3.53 and 0 inches. Of course, precipitation can vary notably over short distances. You might want to also check daily archived contours of precipitation amount based on gauge-adjusted radar estimates, at
Oct. 28, 2016 | Tags: cool sites, past weather, rain

Question: Could you please tell me how much rainfall there was in Spring Lake from the hurricane? — Diane

Answer: We couldn't find a specific gauge report from Spring Lake, but did turn up several sites nearby that showed a range of rainfall totals from the hurricane, together with the frontal boundary that brought some light rain the day before it arrived, that ranged from around 9 inches to as much as almost 15. Some examples include 8.6 inches at Pope Field, 9.8 inches at Simmons AAF, 10.7 and 14.7 inches at volunteer observer sites just southwest and just north of Fayetteville, and 14.9 inches at the Fayetteville airport. Anyone who'd like to check totals at other locations can find reports from official airport sensors through the "Almanac" page on our web site by using the "get historical data" function and then changing from the default RDU location to other sites, and you can also find numerous reports from the volunteer network called the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network (CoCoRaHS) at
Oct. 21, 2016 | Tags: hurricanes, past weather, rain

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