Tom Atkins installed a rain gauge — a graduated cylinder inside a plastic container — to measure rainfall and other precipitation in the backyard of his home in Catonsville in 2015.
He joined the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, a group typically called CoCoRaHS, to measure precipitation where he lives. For Atkins, who has a degree in meteorology and works as a computer programmer for a firm that contracts with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it was a way of reconnecting to his interests.
It was a way to “go back to why I liked [weather] as a kid,” Atkins said. “Observing weather rather than looking at code all day.”
Each morning, Atkins goes to the backyard to see if any precipitation fell, reads the measurement in the rain gauge and records it with CoCoRaHS.
Baltimore's record books are drenched as a historically wet year continues to wreak havoc. After downpours Dec. 15, the total for 2018 reached 68.82 inches. More rain is forecast later in the week of Dec. 17.
In calendar year 2018, having recorded 84.56 inches in the gauge, Atkins may have broken a state record that will be recognized by the National Weather Service for the most precipitation measured in one location during a calendar year in Maryland.
A five-panel committee will review the data and take a vote, said Roy Martin, climate program leader for the National Weather Service’s Sterling, Virginia, office. On a cold Tuesday morning, Martin visited Atkins’ home in Catonsville to take photos of the gauge and review the surrounding conditions.
It may take some time — Martin said up to a few months — but he told Atkins that he didn’t “see anything amiss” with the rain gauge or data that had already been submitted. Martin was unable to give a guess as to when the measurement would be certified.
Maryland’s previous wettest year on record was in 2003, with 62.66 inches of rainfall and other precipitation recorded at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport; precipitation in 2018 smashed that record. The airport’s gauge, considered the regional point of record, measured 73.82 inches in 2018.
Atkins recorded 9.47 inches of rain during a 24-hour period in his backyard rain gauge during the May 2018 flood which devastated Ellicott City and killed Staff Sgt. Eddison Hermond Jr. That measurement put Atkins “head and shoulders” above other gauges in Maryland, Martin said.
Atkins said his home was not badly damaged by the flood; his daughter alerted him that he had left the garage door open, so there was some standing water in the garage and a few inches of water in the basement that could be bailed out.
“Turns out the sump pump can handle a lot of water,” he said.
Some of his neighbors, however, had to have county officials come and pump out their basements, he said. Catonsville and Oella were the two areas of Baltimore County hardest hit by the flood, and one home was deemed temporarily unsafe for habitation.
Despite the torrential pouring of rain that hit Catonsville during and after the flood, the work of the committee to vote on whether to accept measurements will be important.
While Atkins’ measurements are several inches above the previous precipitation record for a calendar year in the state, he is only fractions of an inch ahead of another CoCoRaHS member in Thurmont, in Frederick County, because of consistent wet conditions at Catoctin Mountain.
As the end of 2018 approached and Atkins realized he could be the one to break the record, he started watching the rainfall amounts being measured across the state.