Shaw Islanders are not singing in the rain

Jon Shannon’s curiosity led our Official Shaw Island Amateur Meteorologist to some eye-opening rainfall statistics. If Jon is raising an eyebrow over the stats, it’s time for islanders to pay attention, too. His statistical journey started in the garden.

“As a gardener I am constantly digging holes in my yard. I always take note of the degree of soil saturation and how deep the soil is wet. A few days before Halloween last year I was planting some trees and dug some holes. I expected the soil to be wet or at least moist, but found instead it was bone dry. It made me curious about rainfall so I started looking into it. I was shocked. At first I thought it couldn’t be right and that I had somehow made a mistake while compiling the data. I double-checked it against the National Climate Database numbers and found that the numbers were correct: 7 inches of rain in 2013! It just didn’t seem possible.”

Shaw rainfallAs surprising as those statistics are, there’s another set of numbers that might startle some islanders. Jon also compared the recent actual rainfall to the “long term” average. The set above used the average from 1999 – 2014. The more recent annual average was 17.65 inches. The long term average is 24.97 inches. That makes the recent years look even drier compared to the long term normal.

Jon said: “The most interesting piece of this puzzle for me has been my conversation with islanders about rain. I am amazed at the responses I have received when I asked people, ‘How do you think our rainfall has been the past few years?’ 100% of the people I asked said they thought rainfall was around normal. Several people said they thought it was slightly higher than normal. A few of the people I asked were people with science backgrounds who I knew pay attention to such things. They were all very doubtful when I told them what the statistics say.

“One person was very doubtful and said it must be wrong because ‘I pay attention to rainfall very closely. My pond is full. My driveway has puddles.’ They told me that since Christmas it has been unusually wet. When I told them that the 25 days since Dec. 28, 2014, it has rained on only six days for a total of 1.45 inches and over 1 inch of that came on just two days they were very surprised. Normal for that period is about 3 inches.

Is this a look at our future?
“Is this a trend? Three or four years doesn’t make a trend. But the fact that the long-term average of 24.97 inches per year has fallen to 17.65 inches per year in the new millennium is pretty astounding. Weather is fickle and who knows what the future will bring. It’s certainly nothing to panic about. Compared to Texas, California and the Southwest, this is nothing. But if times are changing and we are heading into a different climate regime as many experts suggest, it makes sense to pay attention.

“As fire chief, my main concern is fire danger. Long-term dry summer conditions are often more significant than the current year’s summer conditions when it comes to wildfire danger. The department and this community need to step up our efforts to be ready for a potential wildfire. We are not prepared. Islanders can take action by following the national Firewise guidelines for keeping property risk minimized, clearing brush and flammable materials from around houses, and ensuring access for emergency vehicles. And we need to have a community conversation about the Fire Department’s capabilities and determine if we can do more to prepare for wildfire.”

To learn more about Firewise, go to firewise.org/wildfire-preparedness.