What’s that saying again about “February showers bringing …”? Well, if there wasn’t already a saying, there is now.
Last month Mother Nature dumped so much rain on the Savannah River Basin we were this close (see above photo by Mike Montone) from having to release water over the spillways at all three of our dams.
And that’s no small feat considering we only recently recovered from Drought Level 1. Indeed, this sort of recovery required Record (with a capital R) level rainfall.
Hartwell trounced all sub-basins in February (and its previous record) with a whopping 10.99 inches versus its 5.09-inch average. Hartwell’s previous February record was 9.46 inches, set in 1956.
Similarly, Thurmond and Russell more than doubled their takes with 9.84 and 9.77 inches compared to their 4.36- and 4.23-inch averages, respectively. They also broke new records.
Russell bested its record for February (7.52 inches), which also occurred in 1956, while Thurmond shattered its record of 7.23 inches in (can you guess the year?) … 1979.
As an aside, Thurmond’s 9.84 inches landed it in the top 3 for most rainfall in ANY month. (Russell and Hartwell’s rainfall for Feb. were sixth & seventh overall for their sub-basins in any month, respectively.)
Hartwell still holds the record for greatest total rainfall in a month at 16.42 inches (September 2004).
All this happened in the shortest, not-normally-wettest month of the year and it didn’t even rain on the bonus day – Leap Day.
There, now that you’re as drenched with stats as the basins were last month, we can move on (sort of).
Our water managers, Stan Simpson & Kat Feingold, did a fantastic job during this hectic month, remaining in constant contact with local meteorologists and the Southeastern Power Administration (SEPA) to adjust the pools to make room for incoming runoff.
It’s a complex dance between assessing the forecasts and anticipating the amount of the remaining room the runoff will occupy in the reservoirs.
Our water managers routinely balance several Congressionally authorized functions of the reservoirs, including water quality, flood risk reduction, hydropower generation and recreation to name a few. However, last month was a particularly tough test as Mother Nature threw everything and the (full) kitchen sink.
They expertly toed the line between generating power and releasing through the dam as necessary.
And even though it’s a brilliant sight, we only release over the spillways as a last resort as it has the potential to cause considerable damage to our downstream stakeholders (and it’s a waste of clean, renewable energy).
Luckily, we didn’t have to do so this time.
(Shown here, Thurmond Dam the last time we had to release over the spillways Jan. 11, 2016. Photo by Scott Hyatt.)
Looking back, though, it wasn’t just the amount of rain the sub-basins received, but the prevailing conditions as the rain fell and continued to fall.
Evaporation and transpiration rates are low during the winter months. So once the ground is saturated, like say, after a huge rain event on Feb. 6 that dropped 4.7 inches (Hartwell) 3.9 inches (Thurmond) and 3.5 inches (Russell), the rest of the month is gravy for runoff, as long as it rains consistently.
So after all of that, what did February showers bring?
Anxiety and excitement, and locally here in Savannah, azaleas, too.
~ Jeremy S. Buddemeier, Corporate Communications Office
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