If the rain keeps falling this year, last year's record will, too.
And that could mean more problems for farmers, contractors and property owners.
Last year was the wettest year on record in Pennsylvania. The National Weather Service reported 63.6 inches of rain fell on the state, more than the 61 inches in 2011, when Tropical Storms Irene and Lee caused widespread flooding.
While 2018 was the second wettest in the Valley at 39.73 inches of precipitation, according to readings from Penn Valley Airport near Selinsgrove, (just under the 41.8 inches that fell in 2011), the Valley has seen more rain so far this year than in the same period last year.
Meteorologist Michael Colbert of the National Weather Service in State College said that as of Wednesday, 27.1 inches of precipitation fell this year in the Selinsgrove area, the 10th wettest here for the period, while 22.5 inches fell in the same period last year.
"A lot of last year's heaviest rain didn't come until July," Colbert said. "I think it's going to be hard to say it will be wetter than last year."
Meteorologist Danielle Knittle of AccuWeather, also in State College, said readings from the airport show the Valley has received 2.45 inches of rain this month, as of Wednesday.
"The normal precipitation for the first 10 days of July is 1.21 inches," she said. "The normal amount for July is 3.78 inches. It's already a little more than halfway there."
She said 62.18 inches of rain have fallen on the Valley from July 1, 2018, to June 30 of this year.
Meanwhile, rainfall records for the country have fallen three months in a row. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, of which the National Weather Service is a part, reported the average precipitation across the contiguous United States for July 2018 through June 2019 was 37.86 inches, 7.9 inches above average, breaking the previous 12-month record set at the end of May. The previous all-time 12-month record was 37.72 inches and occurred from June 2018 through May 2019. Prior to that record, the all-time 12-month record was 36.31 from May 2018 through April 2019. The previous July through June record was 35.11 inches and occurred from July 1982 through June 1983.
Last year the worst
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau spokesman Mark O’Neill said conditions improved in recent weeks and farmers are ahead of schedule compared to last year. Some farmers with a half-century in agriculture called 2018 the worst year for weather they can remember, O’Neill said.
Prior to the improvement, O’Neill said many farmers were two to three weeks behind normal schedules. It was too wet to plant and once seeds were finally in the soil, it was often too wet for them to grow. Saturated fields also prevented heavy equipment from being used on farmland, he said.
Delays impacted the growth of corn and soy, O’Neill said. The first of traditionally three harvests of hay was delayed. The naturally short strawberry season — typically six to eight weeks — was cut back. Some farmers in the Northeast aren’t planting pumpkins this year, O’Neill said, while others elsewhere believe up to half their pumpkin seeds were lost to rain.
Farming is three-fold: planting, growing, harvesting. Improved weather recently — less rain, longer periods of sunshine — allowed farmers to make up ground in growing and there’s hope the harvest will be better than thought, he said.
Last year, he said all three periods were ruined.
“There’s still a sense of optimism for this season,” O’Neill said.
Eric Ernst, erosion and sediment technician, Union County Conservation District, said the perceived increase in the ferocity and isolation of thunderstorms is overwhelming stormwater ponds in commercial and residential developments.
“We don’t seem to get normal rain anymore. We get 2 to 3 inches in an hour. Erosion control systems get blown out. They weren’t meant for those kinds of events,” Ernst said.
The increase in farmers adapting to no-till and cover-crop farming practices has allowed for better groundwater infiltration on local farms, according to Shanon Burkland Stamm, watershed and program specialist, Union County Conservation District.
The result is less sediment and pollution running into waterways like Turtle Creek during heavy rain, she said.
“Using traditional farming practices like plowing, we would have seen a lot more sediment loss in those fields,” Stamm said of specific program areas like in the Turtle Creek watershed. “We’re not seeing that kind of activity anymore.”
Emergency permits for stream work also are down in the Valley compared to 2018, according to Megan Lehman, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
So far this year, Lehman said, there have been two issued in Union County, one in Snyder County and none in Montour and Northumberland counties. Landowners and municipalities needing to work in streams as a result of flooding should reach out to DEP’s Northcentral Regional Office to learn if permit requirements apply, she said.
“Many actions, such as removing debris without placing heavy equipment in the stream, do not require DEP review or approval,” Lehman said.
The abnormal level of rain since the start of 2018 caused many sewage treatment plants across the Northcentral Region to run above hydraulic capacity, Lehman said.
Other risks include the health of wellheads and water sources and increased sediment and manure runoff into streams. Standing water risks the creation of breeding grounds for mosquitoes, Lehman added.
Sunny days ahead
As for the coming days, a few days of sunny weather are in the forecast, Knittle said.
It should be partly sunny today, mostly sunny Saturday and Sunday. The highs will be in the 80s. The humidity should drop off tonight with a low of 61.
There should be more sunshine on Monday, though some clouds will move in. The next potential shower or thunderstorm won't show up until Tuesday, when some moisture left over from Tropical Storm Barry could move in and carry into the middle of the week.