In a development that is unsurprising to anyone with access to a window since February, the Tennessee Valley Authority confirmed Cherokee and Douglas lakes are at summer pool depths early.
After 2018 finished as the rainiest year on historical record in the Tennessee Valley, 2019 is on pace to shatter those rainfall records.
The TVA reported an average of 67 inches of rain fell in 2018, 132% above normal, surpassing the previous record set in 1973 by two inches. In the Lakeway Area, that number was closer to 80 inches, TVA officials said.
Still, if current trends continue, 2018 won’t hold the record for long.
“We’re at 30 inches of rain,” said James Everett senior manager of TVA’s River Forecast Center. “Last year at this time we were at 22.”
February 2019 was the wettest February ever recorded in the Tennessee Valley with an average of 11.6 inches falling in a month, 269% above normal. Factor in higher than average totals in April and May and reaching summer pool levels was never in doubt.
While those who recreate on TVA lakes are pleased, the excessive rainfall brings with it several challenges. Several TVA reservoirs were beyond 100 percent capacity and the agency slowed floodwaters, preventing further damage downstream. Storing beyond capacity is achieved by the Wedge Effect, which means essentially when large amounts of water are released, the levels at the dam are significantly higher than downstream. Essentially the relative height of the top of the dam versus the river below allows water to build up below the dam that can be dozens of feet higher than levels further down the river. Using this effect, the TVA was able to safely store 290% of capacity at Nickajack and 277% at Guntersville.
During February’s floods, the reservoirs downstream carried more of the burden while those in upper East Tennessee mostly stayed under 100 percent capacity. In the Lakeway Area, Cherokee reached 82% and Douglas 60% capacity, 27 and 32 feet above winter pool, respectively.
While flooding did occur and the region suffered damage, TVA officials said the situation would have been significantly worse without river management.
The TVA estimates over $1.6 billion in damages were averted in the Tennessee Valley across the system, even in towns that saw significant flooding.
Now with the lakes full and rainfall totals returning to something closer to normal, TVA officials are urging residents – and tourists – to get out and explore the system’s lakes and shore line.
“All the water has kind of jump started recreation season early,” said Jonathan McNutt, recreation agreement specialist at TVA.
The website www.exploretrv.com promotes places to go, things to do and places to stay for those who wish to explore the Tennessee Valley. The site offers activities from fishing and hiking to driving excursion, water trails historic sites and unique tastes from across the valley.
For those who enjoy recreating on TVA lakes and shoreline, the agency is once again hosting a summer photo contest. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, post your photos from TVA areas on Instagram with #TVAfun for a chance to win a Go Pro camera kit.