It was July 1984, and our area set a record for July rainfall: 13 inches. I remember that as the Summer of Slosh. No going outside and having fun with friends. Definitely no need to buy sunscreen, except to plan for our beach vacation coming up in August. No, it was definitely "stay inside and hibernate with a good book or twelve."
Two summers later, we were praying for rain, literally. Whatever reserve we had was used up very quickly. Farmers from Michigan and other parts of the upper Midwest literally saved the farmers around here with truckloads of hay for the livestock. Summer '86 was hot, horrifically dry, and it was the first time I became familiar with the term drought. Sadly, my familiarity with it would not go away as I moved from adolescence into my adult life.
Now, we're not a farm family -- no, we're townspeople, but in my small town, everyone has a garden of some sort, whether for fruits and veggies for themselves, flora and shrubbery (!) to make their house prettier or both. While I had a vague idea about how important rainwater was to these things, a lack of summer veggies and watching Daddy work over an unproductive garden drove it home. And this was only the beginning. For years on end, we watched the usual summer weather pattern develop: unbearably sticky humid air, only to develop into small pop-up storms that were just enough to "settle the dust" but which did nothing to alleviate the situation. Watching our local lakes go from gorgeously full to dangerously low .... getting the "no boats in these areas" and "no swimming allowed" alerts. To use current parlance, "Sh*t got real."
Off and on, rains would come and restore things a little, but the overall drought continued for years on end. There might be a couple of years that would relieve us here and there, but never the way it was in the mid-1980s. Until.......
2004. It was an Atlantic hurricane season that sent torrents of rain and destruction along the Gulf Coast. And it did not stop that year, but continued right on through that awful summer of 2005 that devastated the Gulf with Katrina and Rita...... but did our area so much good. See, apparently most of our rain comes via tropical systems in the summer and fall. Systems that come in via the west and northwest never make it over the mountains to us. Does a ton of good for eastern Tennessee, western NC, and even northeast GA, but us? ZIP. But if it comes in via the southwest (Gulf) or southeast (Atlantic): booyah! Good rain for us and happy land. It indeed becomes precious rain, in the deepest sense of the word. What is such benefit for us usually brings such destruction or disaster in other areas.
It wasn't all that long ago -- maybe just a couple of years -- that all the benefits we received as a result of those two horrid seasons along the Gulf had gone away. We were yet again facing that ugly D word. Which stage were we in -- incipient? early? moderate? We weren't on the edge of severe again yet (thank God) but it wasn't very good either. Lakes were again low. Boat warnings to look out for shallow areas and sandbars were again issued.
This year, so far, so good. In fact, we're at an abundance again, and the tropical season just started. On May 31, we had gone 9 days without rain, and yet were still at a 2" surplus for the year. The lakes are looking normal again. And now, with the first storm of the season -- albeit less a "storm" than just a good soaking rainmaker -- we're definitely above average!
And I promised myself a few years back that after all those years of drought, I would never complain about rain again. I try very hard to keep that promise. Although after this May and so-far-in-June, I may change my mind.......