Weather has taken a leading role in Eastern North Carolina this year, from one of the hottest summers on record to the worst flooding since Floyd.
Weather has taken a leading role in Eastern North Carolina this year, from one of the hottest summers on record to the worst flooding since Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
As some residents still try to recover from Hurricane Matthew’s flooding rains last month, the problem now may be dry conditions that could lead to wildfires in the spring and poor farming conditions. The area has seen very little rain since Matthew in early October, and now forecasters are predicting a drier winter than normal, which could lead to problems in the spring.
“Look at what’s happening out in the western part of the state, where they’ve been dry for a long time and now they’re starting to get some wildfires,” said John Elargo, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Newport. “If we continue to stay dry through the winter, we might have some similar concerns in our area, especially in the spring when the temperatures start warming up and we start getting some wind combined with that.”
Since Hurricane Matthew drenched the area in early October, the region has had only a couple of days of precipitation in the past six weeks. A system Sunday night dropped about half an inch of rain on the area, but the area has remained dry since and is expected to remain that way for the next several days.
“It looks like, after the rainfall that occurred (Sunday) night, we might go at least a week or so without any significant rainfall in our area, so the dry weather, I think, is going to be a concern unless this pattern breaks,” Elargo said.
That could be problematic for area farmers, including Craven County Commissioner Jason Jones, who grows tobacco, corn and soybeans and who represents a district that’s 70 to 75 percent rural.
“We all, as far as agriculture, have been very grateful that we haven’t had an enormous amount of rainfall since Hurricane Matthew because the past few years it’s been starting to rain around the last of September, first of October and it would rain on through up to February,” Jones said. “It’s really caused a lot of problems, as far as harvesting.”
But if the lack of rainfall continues, however, planting season could be affected.
“It probably would most affect the earliest crop that’s planted, which would be corn,” Jones said. “Usually people start planting corn late March into April, so that would be a concern for the corn crop in trying to get it out of the ground.”
Winter wheat also could be affected.
“There’s not an enormous amount of wheat planted due to prices, because prices are low, but there are some farmers who have planted wheat and definitely, if you have a dry winter, it will hurt the wheat crop,” Jones said. “It would stand to be hurt more so than any other, because that would be about the only thing that would be in the field.”
As holiday decorations start to go up, many may be dreaming of a white Christmas, but that’s probably not likely, Elargo said.
“For our area, we’re looking for a warmer, drier winter,” he said, pointing to long-range forecasts. “We’ve already started the drier (conditions) so it looks like that trend’s going to continue through the wintertime. There still could be some intrusions of cold air and there could still be a chance of some snow, but it’s very rare to get a white Christmas here in Eastern North Carolina, so I wouldn’t count on it.”
The last white Christmas in the area was in 1989.
Along with drier conditions, temperatures in the winter months have up to a 40 percent chance of being above normal, Elargo said.
“These are both trends that have become established already. We’ve been running above normal for most of the year, and it looks like we have about a 40 to 50 percent chance of below normal precipitation for most of our area,” Elargo said.
Last year, the El Niño weather pattern was in effect but this year, it’s La Niña.
“It’s going to be a weak and short-lived La Niña where last year’s El Niño was strong,” Elargo said. “It’s not supposed to persist as long into the year, but nonetheless, it will have some effect on the weather and it looks like the effect is going to be warmer, drier conditions for much of the Southeast states — much of the Southern tier, really, of the United States — for this winter.”
As for the warmer temperatures, that may not pose as much of a problem for the agriculture community.
“The old adage went that if you had a real cold winter, it would help with insects,” Jones said. “I don’t know if that is the true factor because we’ve had some real cold winters in years past and I couldn’t tell a big difference come the rest of the year.”