February Extremes: Rainfall Totals Confound Meteorologists


The Southeast saw record rainfall this February. Dreary, gray day after rainy, dismal day were the story of the weather for much of the South throughout the month, and so much rain fell that flooding was prevalent throughout the region during the unseasonal storms. Atlanta and Knoxville both recorded over ten inches of rain this month alone.

Meanwhile, across the nation in California, some residents haven’t seen a drop of rain all month long. Particularly regions in Northern California, like San Francisco and Sacramento, are in the midst of serious droughts that started before February began. Since the records have been recorded, starting in 1857, there has never before been a rainless February in Sacramento.

Southern Floods, Rain Totals Baffling

For the third year in a row, the Southeast has seen record February rains and numerous floods during a season that has historically been rather dry. For instance, in Beckley, West Virginia, February 2020 was their wettest February since 2019. February 2019 broke a record previously set in the city in 2018. However, before that, February 2019 broke a record from 1897.

Clearly, this is evidence of a remarkable change in weather patterns for the region. Across the area, the story is the same: shattered rainfall records, intense flooding and unprecedented weather patterns.

Meanwhile, the Pearl River flooded, cresting over its highest level since 1983 near Jackson, Mississippi. As of Friday, over 100 rivers in the Southeast are still over “flooding” levels, and groundwater in the region is completely saturated. Even on sunny days, there has been constant groundwater runoff as the ecology tries to catch up to the tremendous downpours.

California Drought Tells Opposite Tale

Meanwhile, across the country, California would love a fraction of the rain that the Southeast has seen. San Francisco hasn’t seen a rainless February since 1864, a short 14 years after California joined the Union. 2020 matched that record, breaking a 156-year streak of the city seeing rain in the late-Winter month.

This is particularly baffling for meteorologists, as February is typically considered the wet season for the Western state. As the state battles numerous droughts and wildfires, it often looks to the colder winter season as respite, when rainfall and cooler temperatures will be the norm. However, this year, the rainy season was cut short in some regions.

The reason for this? The jet stream, which normally pulls storms in to California off of the Pacific, has been diverted. In fact, this diversion is the reason the Southeast has been getting soaked. The storms normally hitting California this time of year are currently being deposited in the Southeast.