The Alabama Climate Report

Brought to you by the Office of the Alabama
Climatologist

Volume 6, Number 9, June 2016

It is summer in Alabama, and that usually means hotter temperatures and a bit less rain.

Usually, but not always. This month we note the 100th anniversary of July 1916, the wettest month in the state's climate record of more than 120 years.

As is often the case, Alabama's record rain was caused in large part by a hurricane or tropical system. The July 5 Gulf of Mexico hurricane came ashore along the Mississippi and Alabama coast during the afternoon of July 5. Wind in Mobile peaked at 106 mph. The 11.6-foot storm surge — which inundated an area four blocks deep along the Mobile waterfront — is still a record. The storm dropped 8.56 inches of rain on Mobile.

It was just getting started. After starting northwesterly across Mississippi almost into Louisiana and Arkansas, the storm made a U turn and crossed into Alabama not far from Tuscaloosa on July 7. It spent the next two and a half days dumping rain across north Alabama. Birmingham reported 4.58 inches on July 6, 7.02 on July 7 and another 2.47 inches over the next three days.

The official hurricane death toll was four, although there were early reports of as many as 17 deaths in one location. Damages along the coast were set at $3 million (about $65 million in 2016 dollars).

The July 7, 1916, the Huntsville Daily Times reported: "... 17 negroes were reported killed, and 8 persons hurt near Beloit, Ala. ... A railroad wire message from Mobile says three or four were killed and much damage was done at the waterfront. A woman was reported killed (in) Lowdnesboro."

On July 9, 1916, the Daily Times noted: "Practically all Southern trains from the West are annulled this morning because of the washout of the bridge near Courtland, and other traffic along the line of the Memphis division is (crippled) because of the heavy rains of the past few days.

"The L&N Railway is probably the heaviest sufferer between Birmingham and Mobile. Several trains have been marooned for more than 24 hours."

A second tropical system that came ashore along the Atlantic coast contributed about 3" of additional rain in what is Birmingham's wettest month of record, with a soggy 20.12" of rain during that July.

The statewide AVERAGE rainfall for that July was 17.59". By comparison, the second wettest July in the Alabama record was in 1994, when the state average rainfall was 9.43".

The five wettest months in Alabama's official climate record are:

#1     July 1916   17.59"
#2     Nov. 1948  15.07"
#3     Mar. 1929  14.82"
#4     Mar. 1980  13.81"
#5     Dec. 1961  12.21"

The July 1916 hurricane was also the earliest in the year for Alabama, which doesn't have a June hurricane in its weather history. So while the Atlantic hurricane season officially started a month ago, it is unofficially time for folks along the Alabama gulf coast to get their tropical storm preparations in gear.

June was warmer than usual, and in some places significantly drier. The northeastern portion of the state is in varying degrees of drought. After their driest May on record, Talladega, Scottsboro and Muscle Shoals each got below normal rainfall in June. CoCoRAHS volunteers in Jackson County said that county averaged only 2.05" of rain in June, compared to Scottsboro's normal 4.28". Auburn saw its driest June on record (0.56"), while Mobile got 7.47" — half again its normal June rain.

Stations including Montgomery, Birmingham and Anniston hit 100° in June, while Clayton and Marion Junction each set daily records on June 26, when the temperature hit 101°.

(NOAA photo library, Copyright 1917, Southern Railway Company)

Fill material slid down the mountain, leaving track suspended during heavy rains.

(NOAA photo library, Copyright 1917, Southern Railway Company)

Cotton bales and other debris in Mobile.

(NOAA photo library, Copyright 1917, Southern Railway Company)

Steamers sunk in Mobile by hurricane of July 5-9, 1916.

(NOAA photo library, Copyright 1917, Southern Railway Company)

Train running through backwater from the Tombigbee River near Wagar, Alabama.

(NOAA photo library, Copyright 1917, Southern Railway Company)

Train running through backwater from the Tombigbee River near Wagar, Alabama.

(NOAA photo library, Copyright 1917, Southern Railway Company)

The steamer "City of Mobile" sits on the municipal wharf at Mobile after the July 1916 hurricane passed through.

- John Christy