WINSTON COUNTY - Throughout the years, weather records are continuously being broken as unusual temperatures, rainfall amounts and other weather phenomena occur. Most broken records are minor, usually within one or two degrees of a record high or record low. What is major, however, is when the big ones come through, and this winter in Winston County over the last couple months has received status as the wettest ever recorded.
The National Weather Service has a weather station located beside the Posey Field Airport in Haleyville, and it has recorded the amount of rainfall for the past meteorological winter, December through February, at 34.35 inches. The wettest day during the winter was Feb. 10, with 3.1 inches of rain.
The amount and time span of the rain have caused problems with certain businesses, mainly those who work outside.
For F & C Logging in Double Springs, this winter has been one of the worst since the business opened in 1993.
The winter began with a blow to all area logging companies when the only nearby pulpwood mill, Louisiana-Pacific, in Hanceville sustained heavy damage by a fire on Nov. 2, closing the plant for a length of time.
“We were out of work three weeks,” Cyndi Tidwell, who runs the business with her husband Freddy, said. Then the rain started. “It’s affected our employees, as they’ve only gotten to work one or two days a week. Payments don’t stop just because work has. It’s been a big hindrance.”
The mill is not being able to process much wood, due to the rain keeping the loggers out of the woods, and thus affecting employees at the mill too. F & C logging employees never had to file unemployment before, because there was always something to do, according to Tidwell. However, this past winter has forced the employees to do just that.
“It hurts me for them,” Tidwell said. “A lot of our guys have been with us for more than 10 years, and we want to keep them. We’re trying everything we can to help them, but there is only so much we can do when we’re not working. We’re not getting a check either.”
The logging company usually has a couple days per month it misses work due to rain, but this past winter, each month has had seven to ten consecutive days where employees were not able to work.
After the fire and rain came Coronavirus-19. The Tidwells purchased wipes and sanitizing material and gave it out to their employees.
“It’s scary the way people are acting,” Tidwell added.
The farmers and the food they grow correlate to the weather and its patterns. Will the recent rainfall affect the growing season for 2020? Zack Brannon, Winston County Extension agent, answers that question.
“Hopefully, we’re not getting all the rain now and then not any in the spring and summer,” Brannon said. “That’s the biggest thing. Right now, this time of year, when farmers are preparing the fields to plant, there is standing water in the fields. You can’t plant.
“As for backyard gardens, you may have it broken up now, if you caught it on a dry day, but you can’t do anything in it. The ground is saturated.
“For those doing hay fields and pastures, I’ve noticed a lot of people have been getting fertilizer out. In some cases, it’s still too wet though. They can’t get out there and do it.
“If we don’t get the fertilizer on there, we won’t get the yield we wanted from the first hay cutting.
“The rain has had a big impact on soil moisture content, and it will make tree’s root structures to not hold on. You’ll see people cutting trees off fences, and it won’t be a big tornadic event that causes it either.”
Brannon also mentioned those in the valley have standing water in the fields, while we are a higher elevation.
“Standing water can dilute the nutrients in the soil, which can result in less quality of crops or a reduction in yield for whatever you have planted,” he said.
Brannon explained the soil labs are still open, and soil boxes and forms can be picked up at Cox Farm or the co-op in Haleyville, or at David Powell’s at Addison. Brannon can distribute those out.
“We’re still business as usual but just operating a different way,” he said. “I think we have the most abundant, reliable, safest food source in the world, as well as the cheapest in this state. I am in no way worried about food shortage.”
Brannon gave the following tips for preparing farms for severe weather and flooding.
• Move machinery, feed, grain, pesticides and herbicides to a higher elevation. The upper level of a two-story barn, if available, makes a good temporary storage facility.
• Open gates so livestock can escape high water, and ensure they have a good source of food and water.
• If water is rising, try to drive stock through water free of obstructions. Grazing animals swim well, but fences and other obstacles can create problems. Long swims through calm water are safer than short swims through a swift current. Large animals often will seek shelter in barns.
• Leave building doors and windows open to equalize pressure during flooding and to help prevent buildings from shifting.
• If possible, move motors and portable equipment to a dry location.
• Disconnect electric power to all buildings which may be flooded. If in doubt about how to disconnect power, call your utility company.
• Tie down lumber, logs, irrigation pipes, fuel tanks and other loose equipment or material. Secondary containment is another possibility for fuel tanks, as well as for pesticide storage.
• To keep surface water out of a well, use materials such as heavy plastic and duct tape to seal the well cap and top of the well casing.
• Secure loose items such as machinery parts and tools.
For other tips on severe weather and flooding, visit aces.edu or give the Winston County Extension office a call at 205-489-5376.
The weather station in Haleyville has been recording data for many decades, continuously since the late 1930s. Data, available for purchase from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, can show weather trends for the latter half of the 20th Century and on up to this year in the 21st Century.
For the statistical purpose of this article, using data from 1940 through 2020 for the meteorological winter, December, January and February, there are three months missing from 1940 through 2020: Jan. 1959, Jan. 1964 and Dec. 1978. A good portion of the data for Feb. 1945, Jan. 1979 and Feb. 2006 is missing. With this in mind, the following statistics are derived from the data available.
• The wettest winter is 2020 with 34.35 inches of rain;
• The dryest winter is 1959 with 5.48 inches of rain;
• The average winter total precipitation is 17.29 inches;
• The average rainfall amount during winter from 1940 through 2020 is 172.71 inches;
• The wettest decades of rain for the winter is the 2010s with 209.9 inches;
• The dryest decade for the winter is the 1980s with 143.47 inches of rain;
• The top three wettest winter months are Jan. 1949 at 17.77 inches; Dec. 2015, at 17.25 inches and Dec. 1990 at 17.04 inches;
• The top three dryest winter months are: Dec. 1958, at 0.82 inches; Feb. 1978, at 0.96 inches and Jan. 1956, at 1.36 inches;
• The top three wettest December months are: 2015, at 17.25 inches; 1990, at 17.04 inches and 1951, at 16.26 inches;
• The top three dryest December months are: 1958 at 0.82 inches; 1965 at 1.41 inches and 2010 at 1.55 inches;
• The top three wettest January months are: 1949 at 17.77 inches, 1946 at 13.10 inches and 1999 at 11.58 inches;
• The top three dryest January months are: 1986 at 1.09 inches, 1943 at 1.32 inches and 1956 at 1.36 inches;
• The top three wettest February months are: 2020 at 14.7 inches, 2019 at 13.85 inches and 2018 at 11.95 inches
• The dryest February months are: 1978 at 0.96 inches, 1941 at 1.79 inches and 1968 at 1.87 inches.
• Total rainfall amount by decades are: 1940s, 175.56; 1950s, 176.57; 1960s, 155.64; 1970s, 169.86; 1980s, 143.47; 1990s, 200.3; 2000s, 165.96 and 2010s, 209.9;
• Overall, the wettest year is 2009 with 87.3 inches.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.