The rainy New Year’s Eve pushed Baton Rouge beyond the 1989 rainfall record, making 2016 the wettest year in the city’s known history and topping the previous mark of 88.32 inches.
By the end of Saturday, 90.54 inches of rain had fallen at Baton Rouge Metro Airport.
The exceptional year was fueled by the heavy rains in March and the rain that produced the severe August floods, said meteorologist Alek Krautmann of the National Weather Service center based in New Orleans.
Although the rain and floods will forever mark Baton Rouge, state climatologist Barry Keim noted they were just one example of extreme weather conditions in 2016.
Louisiana, and especially Baton Rouge, was dealt “everything and the kitchen sink” the last 12 months, he said, pointing to record-breaking tornadoes to a later drought and constantly warm temperatures.
But despite these events, Louisiana was spared, for the fourth straight year, a tropical storm or hurricane.
Flood insurance coverage in the Baton Rouge area spiked following August's record flooding, …
“Every year it seems like we get something new thrown at us, but this year was pretty exceptional," Keim said.
The year began with flooding on the Mississippi River spurred by rain draining from the Midwest, which forced the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway in LaPlace for the 11th time its more than 80-year history. The flood-control system spilled the Mississippi's nutrient-rich freshwater into Lake Pontchartrain, which Keim said will affect the ecology of the lake for years to come.
A month later on Feb. 13, there were 13 recorded tornadoes in the state, primarily in southeast parishes.
"We believe that’s the most tornadoes in day that we have on record in south Louisiana,” said Krautmann. “The biggest tornado was 21 miles long.”
The worst of the twisters touched down in Convent, where two people were killed, but the damage was felt from as far west as Annadale to Lacombe in the east. February's rich tropical moisture mixed with a strong jet stream over top created conditions suitable for extreme weather, Krautmann said.
But then March arrived and pounded the state with rain, which was particularly heavy in north Louisiana, Keim said. Some parishes got as much as 15 to 25 inches, with flooding creeping down as far south as Tangipahoa Parish.
ST. AMANT — John and Sharon Pugh's two adult sons and their cousins stacked sandbags and put…
But then that flooding was topped by the August flooding across south Louisiana.
"The figure that is just unreal is the 30.9 inches of rain [in August]," Krautmann said of the Baton Rouge numbers. "That's the all-time record wettest August by a long shot.”
The previous August rainfall record was almost half the new 2016's record, with 16.27 in 1926.
“It really was a historic rainfall event, the totals were really high and the spatial coverage of that rain was really large,” Krautmann said.
Watson recorded the most rain within a 72-hour period this past August with 31.39 inches, which Krautmann said is typically about half of what Baton Rouge experiences for an entire year.
The torrential rains were followed by no rain. Autumn brought a drought to the majority of the state. And though August is typically the region’s wettest month, and October is usually the driest, Krautmann said this year replicated this trend in extremes.
"The drought was a big deal especially as it comes on the heels of record floods," Keim said. "The contrast over such short period of time just shows you how quickly things can change in Louisiana."
With so many homes destroyed and many property owners lacking flood insurance, Keim said he is sure the flooding will be “transformational” for the region in the same way Hurricane Katrina was for New Orleans.
"It’s going to change a lot of what we do in south Louisiana,” Keim said.
Almost half of the 129,000 applications for disaster assistance from individuals and househo…
And as many people in the capital region spent the holidays in short-sleeves, Krautmann said Baton Rouge is on track to have the fifth warmest year on record.
“The whole region has had a very warm year,” he said. “It looks like it’s going to come in as an above average year for the whole country.”
But neither Keim or Krautmann said the crazy year can be attributed to climate change, though both said warming trends may have played a role. One factor may be the El Niño conditions that began the year, while another contribution could have been rising sea level temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, which puts more moisture in the atmosphere, they said.
“I think I would attribute it to dumb luck,” Keim said, noting that weather is just unpredictable.
"Let's hope for this relatively tranquil pattern, hurricane wise (in 2017),” Keim said. “This year other types of weather certainly made up for it.”