Drought Plaguing North Carolina Again

by | June 26, 2015

By Joe Marusak

Drought has officially returned to Mecklenburg County and the rest of the state for the first time in at least two years, the State Climate Office at N.C. State University announced Thursday.

For the past month, many sites across the state have received an inch or more below what they normally get this time of year, climatologist Rebecca Cumbie said on the State Climate Office website.

"In the western Piedmont, several sites are 2 inches or more below their usual for the past month," Cumbie said. "Combine this with recent heat, and it's no surprise we're starting to see impacts."

The two-week period that ended Tuesday was the warmest on record for many areas of the state, she said, with some experiencing mean temperatures as much as seven degrees above normal.

The Charlotte area has been in the mid- to high 90s, where the high 80s are more the norm, National Weather Service meteorologists told the Observer.

Rain over the western Piedmont has been below normal since last fall, and several times during the winter and spring, drought seemed imminent, Cumbie said. But a storm system moved across the state each time, allaying concerns over the drought's return, she said.

That has changed, she said.

"For the past few weeks, the state has been under several high pressure systems, which tend to suppress convection (think evening thunderstorms) while driving in hot air from the west or southwest," Cumbie wrote.

The warmer temperatures also mean more water evaporates, and when little rain is falling in the first place, that means drought, she said.

Stream flow, ground water, soil moisture levels, agriculture reports and other drought indicators show drought is back in varying degrees across the state, she said.

"This convergence of evidence has led to the designation of drought in the western Piedmont," Cumbie said.

The good news is that the Charlotte region is in what's classified as moderate drought, as opposed to the worse classifications of severe, extreme and exceptional, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Also this week, the South Carolina Drought Response Committee upgraded the drought status to Stage 1 (or "incipient drought") for York and 27 other counties, citing low levels of rainfall across the state.

The city of Rock Hill has declared drought conditions and is asking city water customers to voluntarily reduce water usage. The city is aiming for an overall system reduction of 3 percent to 5 percent.

In the Charlotte area, the next week or so is predicted to be a bit cooler and wetter, Cumbie said, but it's impossible to predict how long that pattern will last.

The National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center calls for a higher probability of below-normal rain and above-normal temperatures July through September.

The (Rock Hill) Herald contributed.

(c)2015 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)