Friday, December 7, 2012

The real story -- drought

If this were June, we'd be in a state of panic across the Carolinas.

We'd be complaining about brown, dried-out lawns, and crops withering in the fields. We'd worry about lake water levels plummeting in the midst of summer heat.

Fortunately, our current drought has arrived in late autumn and early winter, so it's not quite the story it might be in summer.

But make no mistake about it. We're in a drought.

State officials said Thursday that Mecklenburg and surrounding counties are in a Moderate Drought, the lowest level of drought. In all, 65 counties have drought conditions, which is up from 54 a week ago. We're coming off one of our driest Novembers ever, and October also was bone-dry.

December has started the same way.

"Although we still haven't had any reports of public water supplies being affected, we are seeing impacts to streams, groundwater levels, and inflows to reservoirs," Tom Reeder, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources, said Thursday.

Autumn typically is a very dry time of year in the Carolinas, but this fall has been extraordinarily dry. The storm track has been pushed well to the north of the region, and when a storm system moved up the East Coast, it was too far east to bring rain to the Charlotte region.

When will things change?  Who knows?

Meteorologists initially predicted El Nino conditions this winter. That would have increased the rainfall chances for the Southeast.  But now the El Nino forecast has disappeared, and we'll have what's called a "neutral" winter.

The computer models offer little or no help.  In late November, some of the models predicted a change to cold and stormy conditions in early December.  Instead, it was unseasonably warm and dry.

I wrote two days ago about the latest predictions, of a change to wet and much colder weather after the middle of the month.  But in the world of weather, the saying is, "The trend is your friend." It's been dry, so until we see a change, we can expect more of the same.

A cold front will bring us a chance of showers and thunderstorms later Monday, but that won't cure our ills. Rainfall in Charlotte this year is more than 9 inches below seasonal averages. One cold front won't make up for that.