OCTOBER 6, 2020 — Don’t let sunny Autumn skies fool you. This has been a record-breaking 12 months of rain. From October 2019 through September of 2020 (that’s TVA’s fiscal year) we received a whopping 75.74 inches of water from the sky.
And James Everett, senior manager of TVA’s River Forecast Center, says we’re on track to break the record for the calendar year (CY), too.
“The previous record-holder was CY 2018, with 67 inches of rain; we are on pace to meet or break that record with normal rainfall for rest of CY 2020,” says Everett. “What’s unique is that we have had above-normal rainfall every single month—you’d expect to have a dry month here or there, but not this year.”
Looking back, we saw a February of flooding rains in which the River Forecast Center helped avert nearly $1 billion dollars in damage., followed by what Everett describes as two major rain events in March then April, and one smaller event in May. “Those four were the signature high-flow events we’re used to managing,” says Everett, “And they were followed by a summer of persistent—and sometimes intense—thunderstorms, as well as all the rain we’ve seen as a result of tropical systems and remnants from the Gulf and Atlantic.”
That’s all been good for recreation, with juicy high lakes during the summer and slightly higher than normal lake levels heading into the fall.
But now it’s time for the River Forecast Center to bring lake levels down to get ready for winter and spring runoff. “We have to get water out of those big lakes—like Norris, Cherokee and Douglas—so you’ll see higher than normal flows from tributaries flowing into the Tennessee River. We’re currently spilling at Fort Loudoun, Chickamauga, Nickajack, Guntersville and Wilson. We’re just trying to keep pace with all the water we’ve received courtesy of Mother Nature as well as get ready for more tropical remnants.”
The River Forecast Center is not in it alone; it works hand-in-hand with two other TVA groups. “We are setting overall strategy for the river system, but also working with Dam Safety and Hydro Generation to schedule hydropower and make sure our spill gates are in good shape and operated when needed,” Everett says.
What will happen next? There’s no knowing for sure, but Everett has his eye on hurricane Delta. (Fun fact: Having run out of A to Z names, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration—well known as NOAA—has shifted to naming storms after letters in the Greek alphabet.) And all signs point to a fall with robust rain levels.
Signs look good for a rainy Autumn. “We’re about 9 inches short of the CY record,” Everett says. “Nine inches over the next three months will break the calendar-year record, and we could see two to three inches this weekend alone.
“In any case, it’s been an extraordinary last 12 months,” he concludes.
TVA also manages the river flow to meet many other needs. Learn about these needs here.