When it rains, it pours: 76.17 inches worth
by RICK NORTON Associate Editor
Feb 03, 2014 | 1009 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When former Cleveland Utilities Water Division manager Fred Murphy retired years ago, he told his boss — Tom Wheeler, who was the CU general manager — his greatest relief in stepping down was no longer obsessing over whether conditions were going to be “... too wet or too dry, too hot or too cold.”

Wheeler echoed the weather assessment, and repeated the wording in a Cleveland Daily Banner interview, when he retired in December.

And now, Water Division Vice President Craig T. Mullinax is taking his turn at watching Mother Nature. His latest observation came when assessing the record rainfall totals that saturated Cleveland and Bradley County, and most of Southeast Tennessee, in 2013.

Perhaps at a loss for words, Mullinax described the area’s 76.17 inches of rain as being simply “... amazing.”

“This is just amazing,” the longtime CU Water Division leader said at a recent session of the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities.

Lightheartedly asked by Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, a utility board member, for his predictions into 2014, Mullinax didn’t hesitate. In lighthearted fashion of his own, Mullinax stressed, “I never [predict] on rainfall.”

That’s because Mother Nature can be a finicky lady.

Sunday’s rainfall that doused Bradley County through the night and into today, and is expected to continue off and on through the week, is serving as a reminder of what Mullinax called a “wet, wet year” in 2013.

Mullinax is expected to provide operational and service updates Tuesday when the utility board holds its next formal monthly session. Given the bitter cold of January, he — as well as Electric Division Vice President Bart Borden — should have plenty to talk about.

In the utility industry — especially full-service public companies like Cleveland Utilities that provide electric, water and wastewater — weather is tied directly to sales volume. In the winter when it’s wetter, CU sells less water. In the summer when it’s dry, CU sells more water. And in temperature extremes, whether it’s hot or cold, the utility sells more electricity either to cool or to heat homes, businesses and manufacturers.

Like utility companies throughout the Southeast region, CU is coming off a wet year in 2013. The 76.17 inches of rain that fell atop Bradley County from January through December — including a two-month drought in September and October — far exceeded the yearly average of 54.33 inches for this area. In his monthly report, Mullinax termed it a “... departure from normal” in the amount of 21.84 inches.

Using a chart included in his board report, based on information from the Cleveland Filter Plant, Mullinax showed that the 2013 rainfall totals far exceeded any year dating back to 1996 when 54.42 inches fell. The closest total to 2013 came in 2011 when 71.61 inches fell.

A look at the last 17 years points to Bradley County’s extreme level of saturation in 2013.

According to Mullinax’s chart, the rainfall totals in that span of time — from 1996 through 2013 — included: 1996, 54.42 inches; 1997, 55.29 inches; 1998, 60.76 inches; 1999, 48.53 inches; 2000, 48.81 inches; 2001, 47.60 inches; 2002, 53.81 inches; 2003, 68.62 inches; 2004, 68.16 inches; 2005, 49.94 inches; 2006, 47.52 inches; 2007, 32.74 inches; 2008, 48.13 inches; 2009, 68.16 inches; 2010, 48.03 inches; 2011, 71.61 inches; 2012, 49.85 inches; and 2013, 76.17 inches.

Mullinax’s apt description of “amazing” was perhaps even more “amazing” given the fact September registered only 2.70 inches and October offered a scant 0.83 of an inch. That left the remaining 10 months to rack up the record totals.

The big hitters — or perhaps more appropriately worded, the big splashers — were January and July, both of which donated 10.90 inches of rainfall. April contributed 10.51 inches. Down the line, December rains delivered 8.20 inches, June gave 7.31, and May poured in 6.20. Other months included August, 5.36; November, 4.91; March, 4.72; and February, 3.63.

In a related development, though it has nothing to do with rainfall, Mullinax said CU crews in November hooked up 21 meter sets. This was down from 24 for the same period in 2012, and 25 for November 2011. A meter set is the physical connection of a CU water meter to a new development or a remodeling that requires a new meter.

Meter sets are a measure of construction activity, and new construction is considered a gauge of economic development. When economic development numbers are up, it signals a good or recovering economy.

Of the 21 meter sets in November, Mullinax said they included: single-family housing units, 14; commercial, 3; three-unit townhome, 3; and irrigation, 1.

In other developments during the recent session the board:

- Approved the Fiscal Year 2013 audit report.

- Approved a purchase order to Pointe General Contractors LLC for the renovation of the building at 865 Freewill Road (also known as the old Collins building) and site in the amount of $192,173. The facility will be utilized for additional warehouse space for materials, equipment, a backup dispatch center and an off-site virtual server array and data storage for computer systems backup. The site will be utilized for transmission and special distribution pole storage and a future substation location.

- Approved revisions to the Street and Outdoor Lighting Rate Schedule as recommended by TVA with an effective date of March 1, 2014.

- Approved a purchase order for the 2014 Southeast Industrial Development Association invoice in the amount of $50,978. This is a partnership with TVA and the Southeast Tennessee Development District that dates back to the early 1990s. Half the cost to CU is reimbursed by TVA.