August rainfall helps, but problems persist in western NC


ASHEVILLE (AP) — While August rainfall has eased drought conditions in western North Carolina, hot and dry weather has already taken its toll on agriculture and could linger into fall, according to a state climatologist.

A North Carolina Drought Management Advisory report says Buncombe County has been in a drought since April. The weekly report also says Buncombe and surrounding counties have ranged between three categories – abnormally dry, moderate drought and severe drought.

The dry conditions came as climate scientists recorded July being the hottest month on record in Asheville, with a monthly average temperature was 78.9 degrees, 4.2 degrees above normal., the Asheville Citizen-Times reported.

State Climatologist Rebecca Ward says the regional drought has browned grass, lowered hay yields, left some creek beds dry and caused tulip and yellow poplar trees to lose leaves.

Farmers in Buncombe County haven’t seen a major decrease in annual crops like tomatoes, corn and cold beans, since most are watered through irrigation. Reductions have been seen in hay and livestock profits, Buncombe County Extension Director Steve Duckett said.

There has also been “early marketing of calves to relieve pressure to the feed supplies,” Duckett said.

Rainfall measured at Asheville Regional Airport since the beginning of the year is 2.24 inches below average, according to data from the National Weather Service in Greer, South Carolina.

Beginning in late June, monthly rainfall totals have bounced back to near or above normal but it’s not enough to cut into the prolonged period of drought, said Doug Miller, a professor in the atmospheric sciences department at UNC Asheville.

The rainfall total from Aug. 1-24, was 6.58 inches, which was 3.41 inches above normal, according to the National Weather Service. Last year, 2.68 inches of rain fell from Aug. 1-24.

La Niña is on the horizon with rainfall predicted to be below normal and temperatures to be above normal, Ward said.

La Niña is the opposite of El Niño, which western North Carolina experienced last winter, and typically builds at the end of fall and into the winter, Miller said. The pattern of cooler-than-average winter temperatures in the Pacific Ocean tends to bring dry, warm weather to the southern U.S. in the winter.

Whether any type of La Niña happens remains uncertain, said Anthony Artusa, a meteorologist and seasonal forecaster at the Maryland-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center.

“Current data shows that if one manifests, it would be weak,” he said.

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