June 20, 2008

Onslow, Carteret Feel Drought

By Suzanne Ulbrich, The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C.

Jun. 20--The drought conditions are back.

The most recent Southeast Drought Monitor this week indicates Onslow and Carteret counties are under moderate drought conditions -- but the area is better off than most in the state.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday that 97 percent of the state is in some form of drought, up from 65 percent last week. Conditions are worse in the southwestern part of the state, where seven counties are under exceptional drought, the most severe category.

Onslow County Fire Marshal Don Decker said that in addition to watching the drought monitor, he keeps an eye on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI), which is issued by the Division of Forest Resources. KBDI ranges from 0 (no drought) to 800 (extreme drought). Factors in the index are maximum daily temperature, daily precipitation, antecedent precipitation and annual precipitation.

"At the moment we're low on the index, but we are on the fringes -- Onslow County in an orange zone which was minimal threat last I checked," Decker said. "Drought is just another impact on our burning conditions. As long as we're in the minimal zone, what I do is work with national weather folks who monitor atmospheric conditions and N.C. Forestry Service who gets a moisture fuel index, to determine whether we have potential for dangerous fire conditions."

Woody Yonts, chair of the Drought Management Advisory Council, said 79 percent of North Carolina's topsoil conditions are very dry.

"Things are really drying out due to lack of precipitation and the hot and dry weather," Yonts said.

Emily Adams, with the Onslow County Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension, said conditions are better than last year at this time for area farmers; however, the dry weather is still a concern.

"In a way we're a little bit fortunate; it's not as dire as last year at this time," Adams said. "But it is starting to become a concern, as farmers are out now trying to plant soybeans and grow hay, and with the corn in the fields, they're starting to get nervous. But, we're crossing our fingers and hoping for the best right now -- and we're waiting to see if we'll pull out of it or not."

So far, county officials -- including those with the Onslow County Water and Sewer Authority -- have not put any restrictions on water usage.

"We draw our water from aquifers and deep water wells, so are not as affected by drought conditions as other parts of the state that use reservoirs and rivers," ONWASA Executive Director David Walker said. "So we are not going to be putting any restrictions on water usage."

Contact Topsail area reporter Suzanne Ulbrich at [email protected] or 910-219-8466.


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