Two significant weather events separated by exactly one week left this region in a waterlogged state at the onset of the new year, but most of eastern Wake County avoided some of the problems that plagued other communities, such as flooding and sewer overflows, according to local officials.
More than a half inch of rain in the Triangle on Dec. 22 followed by 1.68 inches recorded at RDU International Airport on Dec. 23 soaked the ground and set the stage for flash flooding during the even greater downpour the area witnessed last Wednesday.
“With the rain we had last week saturating the ground preemptively, it didn’t take a whole lot for this rain to cause a problem,” Kathleen Carroll, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Raleigh, said Thursday.
Weather experts reported a precipitation total of 1.79 inches at RDU over the full 24 hours on Wednesday.
Carroll said all the rainfall totals likely varied some from one location in the Triangle to the next, but that Eastern Wake towns probably saw about the same amounts of rain recorded at the airport.
“It was quicker hitting than what we would typically see with a tropical system,” she said. “Most of this cell was in a 12- or 18-hour period, which is why the flash flooding was so much faster.”
The local area fared better than parts of the Triad, where Carroll said more than 3 inches dropped Wednesday.
While it made for a dreary New Year’s Eve, the rain that continued into the day Thursday was less extreme, with right at a quarter of an inch recorded from midnight to noon.
The one-two punch of weather resulted in rising water levels last week, especially around low-lying points that are commonly affected by significant rainfall. Much of the front portion of Zebulon’s Whitley Park was under water by Wednesday afternoon.
“Any low-lying spots like (Whitley) park are going to be tough, and its below the road, it’s saturated, the water has nowhere to go and it’s going to take some time to drain,” said Zebulon Public Works Director Chris Ray.
Both Ray and Wendell Public Works Director Alton Bryant said their crews worked to clear debris from the tops of catch basins to ensure water could flow efficiently.
“That’s standard procedure for us, for someone to monitor those,” Bryant said Thursday, referring to catch basins and ditches. “Our drainage channel seems to be handling the volume of water flow fairly well. It’s just a bit muddy.”
The Town of Knightdale reported no issues with flooding as of Thursday afternoon.
While fire Chief Tim Guffey said there was a slight increase in vehicle accident calls involving injury throughout the rainy week, police Chief Lawrence Capps reported no increase in wrecks as a result of the rain.
“When people recognize that weather will be an issue, they generally take measures to drive a little more carefully,” Capps said.
Eastern Wake EMS Director Garland Tant said his unit responded to a number of vehicle accidents typical of what it would see during any other rain event – nothing more due to the heavy rainfall totals last week.
The Zebulon Fire Department reported similar findings.
“I’d say we’ve been pretty lucky,” said Zebulon Fire Division Chief Wayne Dupree.