Nearly half of North Carolina is experiencing a moderate drought and another 31% of the state is abnormally dry, according to the most recent NC Drought Monitor.
Over the past week moderate drought conditions have crept toward the Piedmont from the southeast, where Brunswick County and the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority have advised their customers to conserve water.
Raleigh has reported its driest spring so far on record, with just 4.93 inches of rain; the
30-year average is 10.92 inches.
Most of eastern North Carolina is at least 4 inches below normal for the season.
The last time North Carolina experienced a drought was in November 2019, according to the NC State Climate Office. “The western part of the state hasn’t seen the widespread emergence of springtime drought conditions since 2007, but areas just west of Charlotte and the Triad did experience a fast-emerging drought in June 2015 during the hot, dry start to summer there,” according to the climate office.
The 2007 drought was the state’s worst since at least the Dust Bowl. Falls Lake, which is also a drinking water reservoir, was so low that the lakebed was exposed for hundreds of yards from the shore.
In addition to dry weather, the Piedmont has reported record heat. The temperature hit 94 degrees on Wednesday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, tying the record set in 2019.
The NC Forest Service has issued a burn ban for 26 counties. On Wednesday, an estimated 47 wildfires were reported statewide, burning 19 acres.
In May, there have been 536 fires, according to the Forest Service, accounting for nearly 3,100 acres burned. Those figures are well above May 2020 totals of 149 fires reported and 198 acres burned.
The 10-year average for May, according to the Forest Service, is 226 fires and 797 acres burned.
The USDA’s weather and crops report for North Carolina indicates tough conditions for agriculture:
“Vegetable crops are struggling, and farmers are watering what they can.” – Franklin, Nash, Halifax counties
“Very dry and the area needs rain. Crops at a tipping point. Tobacco is the worst hit by the dry conditions; soybeans are struggling to emerge. Corn growth is slowed and stunted.” – Person County
“Extremely dry conditions have halted soybean, cotton, and peanut planting. Corn is beginning to react to the dry conditions.” – Lenoir County
The western third of the U.S. is in a long-term “mega drought,” causing water shortages and wildfires.
Climate change is one of the factors driving the extremely dry weather. According to the EPA, average temperatures have risen because of climate change, speeding up the water cycle. Moisture is more quickly evaporating from soil, as well as leaving plants through their leaves, a process known as transpiration. Combined, this can make more water available in the air for precipitation, but contributes to drying over some land areas, leaving less moisture in the soil.