June 27, 2008

Rockingham’s Drought Status Reaches Severe Levels Once More

By Miranda Baines, The Reidsville Review, N.C.

Jun. 27--Rain from Thursday evening's thunderstorm brought much-needed relief to Rockingham County. But the county will need far more than sporadic rainfall to get out of a severe drought. Experts say the dry weather is here to stay.

The drought conditions for the area had been classified as moderate.

"The drought is getting worse, slowly but surely," said Peter Corrigan, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service. "We've had sporadic rainfall, and that's the kind of rain we're expecting for the next week or two. That's the pattern so far."

He said the scattered thunderstorms will bring localized, but not widespread, relief. Odds are the dry conditions will continue until August or September, when a tropical storm could bring rain to the region.

"The northern Piedmont needs about 9 inches of rain to get back to normal," Corrigan said. He said the Piedmont already has a 2-inch rain deficit for June. In Danville, Va., Corrigan said, 0.81 inches have fallen; the normal precipitation for June is near 3 inches. In Wentworth, only 0.02 inches of rain had fallen as of Wednesday, according to data from the Upper Piedmont Research Station.

If the drought persists, serious problems could arise.

"It puts long-term stress on trees and forests," said Corrigan. "It stresses natural systems. It affects groundwater supplies."

According to the National Weather Service's daily river forecast, Thursday's recorded water level in the Dan River at Wentworth was 1.14 feet. The river water level in Danville, Va., was 4.27 feet -- the flood stage is 17 feet.

Gov. Mike Easley warns North Carolinians to prepare for a worse drought this summer than the state experienced in 2007.

"It is good that we started conserving a year and a half ago," Easley said in a news release. "The drought conditions are worse now than they were last year at this same time."

According to the latest federal drought map, 56 counties in the western half of the state are experiencing exceptional, extreme or severe drought. In comparison, 21 counties were in extreme or severe drought, and none were in exceptional drought during the same week last year.

Ben Chase, livestock agent for Rockingham and Guilford Counties, said the weather is hurting livestock producers.

"We're in worse shape this year when we were last year in terms of hay," Chase said. "If we don't get some more rain, we're going to be selling animals, I'm afraid."

He said the price of hay has not stabilized because of the dwindling supply, which is inadequate to stock livestock producers' barns for the winter. The drought is also beginning to compromise quality.

Landscaping and lawn-care businesses are also feeling the heat.

"If you're getting paid by the job, you're losing income," said Glenn Walker, a sub-contract worker for Loye Enterprises in Reidsville. He said he hasn't mowed his own yard in almost three weeks.

"We really need some rain -- a good, steady rain, a slow rain that soaks in and doesn't run off," said Walker.

Air quality is also a concern.

Air quality officials issued a Code Orange health notice for air pollution in the Triad metropolitan area for Friday. High ozone levels can worsen symptoms in people with respiratory problems.

"It's more upper respiratory problems with the heat," said Robin Powell, a respiratory therapist at Annie Penn Hospital. "The air is so thick you feel it. You know it's affecting you." Powell advises people with upper and lower respiratory problems, such as asthma, to take their preventive medicine before heading outside and warns people against exerting themselves.

"Stay inside and stay cool," she said.

Air quality officials also ask that people refrain from burning, conserve electricity and cut down on driving time to reduce air pollution during Code Orange conditions. For more information, visit the N.C. Division of Air Quality's Web site at http://www.ncair.org.

Staff writer Miranda Baines can be reached at or 349-4331, ext. 35.


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