Extremely wet September causing issues for the county’s athletic fields

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Young football and soccer players practicing on Ogden Park's athletic fields. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
Young football and soccer players practicing on Ogden Park’s athletic fields. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — It has been a very wet September for the Wilmington area.

According to data from the National Weather Service, 14.34 inches of rain have fallen in Wilmington since Sept. 1. More than half of that amount, 7.78 inches, fell on Sept. 2 when Tropical Storm Hermine hit the area.

“September is typically one of our wetter months due to tropical systems,” said Reid Hawkins, science officer with the NWS office in Wilmington. According to Hawkins, the average amount of precipitation in Wilmington for the month of September is 7.84 inches.

In addition to Hermine, Tropical Storm Julia also impacted the area. Unlike Hermine, which did all its damage in one day, Julia stuck around the area for several days as it weakened into a tropical depression. Last week, the system dropped 5.29 inches of rain.

All that precipitation caused New Hanover County’s Parks and Recreation department to close down several athletic fields on multiple days. On Thursday, all county fields were shut down for the third time this month (they were all closed for two days during and after Hermine).

Anytime we close the fields, it’s because of wet conditions,” said Andy Johnson, the assistant director of New Hanover County Parks and Recreation. “The rain impacts us tremendously. It does damage the fields.”

According to Johnson, the fields are already “heavily overused,” which makes their preservation even more necessary. A study done by North Carolina State University states that natural turf rectangular fields (football, soccer, etc.) with over 1,000 hours of use per year are considered damaged; and some of the county’s largest parks are way above that number.

“The fields at Ogden Park have over 11,000 hours of play each year. Veterans Park fields get over 10,000 hours of play a year,” said Johnson, adding that all of the county’s athletic fields are made of Bermudagrass. “We try to reserve those fields as much as we can just because there’s already overuse.”

Drainage is also an issue, according to Johnson, especially for parks in the northern part of the county such as Ogden Park or Northern Regional Park. The baseball, football and soccer fields at those two parks have been closed for six days each so far this month..

“The soil in the southern part of the county is sandier, so there’s better drainage,” Johnson said. “But we have facilities that already have drainage problems, and all this rain isn’t helping with that.”

Several high school sporting events have also been delayed or postponed already this year due to the rain and poor field conditions.

The over-saturation of the area’s soil has been a problem since last year, when Wilmington had its second-wettest year on record with 73.49 inches of rain. So far this year, 55.88 inches of rain have been measured since Jan. 1., putting the area close to its average annual rainfall of 57.6 inches with just three months left in the year. There is, however, some good news for Johnson and his team of groundskeepers.

According to Hawkins from the National Weather Service, the Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, is predicting “below average” precipitation.

“October through December are typically some of our drier months,” said Hawkins. “They might be especially so this year because we’re in a transition period from El Niño to La Niña, which means less precipitation.”

While chances are “unfavorable” to break last year’s amount of rain, Hawkins said there is still a possibility depending on tropical activity.

“All we need is another tropical storm in October that could drop five to 10 inches just like that,” Hawkins said. “It is still hurricane season until Nov. 1, after all.”

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