Lack of rainfall cause for concern

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 26, 2006

It’s not at a dangerous level as of now, but without any substantial rainfall in the very near future, the Roanoke-Chowan area will be stuck smack dab in the midst of a drought.

On Thursday, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued a press release stating that due to a lack of consistent rainfall, parts of the state’s northern Piedmont and northern Coastal Plain have been thrust into either moderate drought or abnormally dry conditions.

Northampton County, especially the western end, fell into the moderate drought category. Gates, Bertie and Hertford were listed as abnormally dry, the lowest indicator on the D0-D4 drought scale.

“If we have a fire at this point, it will take a lot of water to put it out because there’s just not a lot of moisture in the ground right now,” Chris Smith, Hertford County Forest Service Assistant Ranger, said. “If we don’t get some rain and get some soon, things are setting up for a busy fall fire season.”

Rainfall has been spotty throughout the area during July and August. The last measurable amount was 0.04 inches recorded Aug. 20 at Tri-County Airport, the area’s official weather reporting station.

“We’re extremely dry,” Northampton Forest Ranger Rodney Black said. “It was the other way around in June. All that rain allowed the vegetation to green-up and grow like crazy. Now, with low ground moisture, all that growth is drying out fast. As it does, it becomes that much more to burn when a wildfire occurs.”

Both Smith and Black encouraged local residents to please use extreme caution when burning yard debris.

“With the soil moisture being way down and the temperature way up, the potential is there for an outbreak of wildfires,” Smith noted.

Another indicator of drought conditions is the Keetch-Byram Drought Index. That scale runs from zero (wet) to 800 (extremely dry). On average, the Roanoke-Chowan area currently stands at the 439 mark.

“Once you start reaching the 500 level, it’s a sign that trouble is looming as far as an outbreak of wildfires are concerned,” Black stressed.

The prolonged period of dry weather is also placing a strain on county and municipal water systems. Currently, there are no local restrictions on water usage, but yet state officials are offering words of warning if the dry spell continues.

“We’re telling people to conserve water wherever possible,” Woody Yonts, chairman of the N.C. Drought Management Advisory Council, said. “We’re not at a critical stage, but as we enter the fall, which generally is the driest time of year, we need people to be cautious and aware of local water system restrictions.”

Rainfall amounts across North Carolina have differed widely in recent weeks. Meanwhile, stream flows have continued to drop and are at below normal levels for this time of the year. If North Carolina continues to experience rainfall deficits, stream flows could fall farther below normal levels.

Yonts said those residing in the areas of moderate drought, including Northampton County, should follow these guidelines:

Stay informed on drought conditions and advisories.

Check out

Project water needs and available water supply for a 90-day period from the issuance of the advisory.

Assess your vulnerability to the drought conditions and adjust water usage to prolong available supply.

Inspect water delivery system components such as irrigation lines and fixtures, repair leaks and ensure that existing equipment is operating as efficiently as possible.

Ensure that local water users understand the need to conserve water through public awareness and outreach programs.

In the abnormally dry areas (including Gates, Bertie and Hertford) Yonts said all water users in these counties monitor their water supplies and plan to take precautions in case they are faced with a drought.

These dry conditions could help fuel an increase in the number of wildfires in the fall, which is one of two fire seasons in North Carolina. In 2006, the N.C. Division of Forest Resources has responded to more than 4,500 wildfires, which exceeds the average for this time of year. People planning to conduct any outdoor burning are urged to use caution.