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The Rappahannock River nears the 9-foot mark at City Dock on Tuesday. The storm cut the area^BENT^0027^EENT^s rainfall deficit in half.
Tim Macura looks at the swollen Rappahannock River while holding his and his wife's umbrellas at City Dock.
By RUSTY DENNEN
Hurricane Sandy's big shot of rain helped ease the area's rainfall deficit for the year and swelled the Rappahannock River to a few feet below flood stage at its crest Tuesday evening at City Dock.
According to the University of Mary Washington weather station, 5.07 inches of rain fell Monday. Another 0.71 inch had fallen as
For the month to date, the total was about 6.94 inches, far above the 3.72 inches that normally fall in October.
The area remains in a serious rainfall deficit, but Sandy helped. Prior to the storm, the area was over 11 inches behind in rainfall.
The rain also helped replenish area reservoirs. In Stafford County, Smith Lake came up 4 feet, but is still 4 feet below normal. Abel Lake rose just over 4 feet, but is still nearly 2 feet below normal.
As of Tuesday evening, 29.39 inches of rain had fallen during 2012. The normal amount by this time is about 36 inches.
Sandy was a big rainmaker, but the largest single-day rainfall, according to Free Lance-Star records, was Oct. 16, 1942, when 6.17 inches were recorded.
On that day, record flooding pushed the Rappahannock River to a crest of 41.2 feet at City Dock. Flood stage is 18 feet. Nearly 14 inches of rain fell on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains west of Fredericksburg during that historic storm.
In Sandy's wake, the river crested at just over 15 feet Tuesday evening. Still, that level put some roads and riverfront property underwater.
Rising water was also a big concern downriver.
Landowners along the lower Rappahannock and Potomac had been expecting high tides several feet above normal, due to the combined impact of the storm surge and a full moon.
That was not the case, because of the way Sandy's winds hit the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, said Brandon Peloquin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Sterling.
"The brunt of the [storm] surge was along the Eastern Seaboard," he said, where Sandy's center, with northwest winds topping 90 mph, came ashore near Atlantic City, N.J.
That wind pattern pushed water out of the bay, rather than piling it up inside.
"That's why the surge was not as high [Monday]" as it could have been, he said.
But in the hours after the hurricane made landfall, winds began to shift to the southwest in Virginia, pushing water back into the bay.
As a result, high tides on the lower Potomac and Rappahannock rivers were higher on Tuesday than on Monday at the height of the storm.
Wind direction and speed "really play a big role in these coastal flood situations," Peloquin said.
Staff Librarian Craig Schulin
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431
At least nine significant October hurricanes and tropical storms have hit coastal Virginia since the late 17th century, according to the National Weather Service.
Among them:OCT. 19, 1749--During this unnamed storm, the water level at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay rose 15 feet. OCT. 23, 1878--Cobb and Smith islands on the Eastern Shore were completely submerged. OCT. 10, 1903--Nine-foot storm surge reported in Norfolk. OCT. 15, 1954--Wind gusts from Hurricane Hazel clocked at 100 mph at Norfolk Airport.