If you’ve been thinking 2015 is a rainier year than usual here in the Triangle, it’s not just your imagination.
One hundred and fifty-three of the past 339 days have been rainy, according to data collected by the National Weather Service at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
That breaks the 1948 record by four days – and there are still 27 days left in December.
It’s true that drought-stricken reservoirs and once-parched lands have benefited from the relentless rain this year. But the many damp, gray days have created havoc for farmers, caused scheduling problems for event planners and canceled many outdoor events.
The downpours and lingering showers have cooped up people indoors and dimmed the mood of a region that brightens immensely at any appearance of sunshine.
“We’ve had a lot of moisture,” said Corey Davis, an applied climatologist at the State Climate Office of North Carolina.
A lot of records were broken, too.
This fall in North Carolina – from September to November – was the rainiest on record, Davis said. The statewide average was 20.3 inches of precipitation, and the record rains came during a time when no tropical systems passed over the state.
“That makes it all the more impressive,” Davis said.
Wetter than Seattle
The Triangle, with 50.46 inches of rain recorded at RDU since Jan. 1, has surpassed Seattle, which has a reputation as one of the rainiest U.S. cities. By early November, Raleigh had received nearly 20 more inches of rain than Seattle.
Meteorologists and climatologists say the El Niño has a lot to do with the recent weather patterns.
El Niño occurs when tropical waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean are warmer than usual, a pattern that can last from several months to several years. The warmer ocean waters often produce more intense thunderstorms, which in turn can shift the track of the sub-tropical jet stream – an upper-level air current that plays a large role in the weather here.
The El Niño creates more pronounced dips in the jet stream, pulling more moisture off the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and whipping up more storms from Texas into the Carolinas.
While that is likely to mean more precipitation this winter, Davis said, it’s too early to tell whether that will be snow and sleet or more rain.
The polar vortex, which sent shivers across the United States last year, is one factor that controls how much cold Arctic air comes this way. Right now, the vortex is strong, Davis said, keeping the frigid air close to the Arctic Circle.
But as winter proceeds and the spinning vortex develops wobbles, cold air escapes. If it mixes with the moisture expected from the El Niño, climatologists say, North Carolina could see a snowy January and February instead of the rainy months predicted now.
The calls for more precipitation might darken the collective spirit.
“Most people respond to sunlight with positive moods,” said Steevie Jane Parks, a psychologist in Chapel Hill. “It’s just human nature.”
Some have experienced a silver lining in the monotonous gray.
Lots of leaking roofs
Keith Gregory, a roofer for three decades who has spent the past 11 years at Baker Roofing in Raleigh, has seen a boom in the company’s business with people calling in about leaks and water damage from the rain.
“It’s been one of our busiest years, no doubt,” said Gregory.
Though many are troubled by the inward push of the rain – canceling baseball games, shortening running routes, forgoing walks in the woods for trips to coffee shops and indoor activities, Bradley R. Staats, an associate professor at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, said his research shows rainy days can make rainmakers in the business world.
Maybe bad weather is good for productivity. I prefer not to get rained on, but that’s the silver lining.
Bradley R. Staats, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School
Staats and two researchers from Harvard University looked at productivity levels in companies on rainy days. They discovered that people tend to be more productive when they don’t have a beautiful, sunny day beckoning them away from their computers and desks.
“Maybe bad weather is good for productivity,” Staats said echoing the impetus for the study and the conclusion. “I prefer not to get rained on, but that’s the silver lining.”