Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Drought declared for Southeastern North Carolina as record highs, dry spell continue

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows a moderate drought for southeastern North Carolina. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor)
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows a moderate drought for southeastern North Carolina. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor)

Today looks to break Wilmington’s record high for the fourth time in five days and push the span of no rain in the area to 18 days; meanwhile, state soil moisture levels indicated a severe drought is imminent.

WILMINGTON — The United States Drought Monitor has declared a moderate drought for southeastern North Carolina including New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender Counties.

The affected region, which includes all or part of 10 coastal counties from Brunswick in the south to Pamlico in the north, has been designated a “D1 Moderate Drought” area. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor’s website, a moderate drought indicates that some water shortages are developing or imminent, some damage to crops and pastures has occurred, and voluntary water-use restrictions are requested.

According to the National Weather Service, Wilmington has recorded no rainfall over a 17-day period — on May 12, .18 inches was recorded. The May total is only .29 inches, well short of the normal monthly value of 4.15 inches.

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The U.S. Drought Monitor is a national drought map jointly produced every Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) in Nebraska.

Mark Bacon, a meteorologist with the NOAA’s National Weather Service Forecast Office in Wilmington, said low-chance scattered thunderstorms over the next few days will not likely bring any large-scale drought relief.

He said there is a forty-percent chance that a line of thunderstorms from the north and west will hit the Cape Fear region late tomorrow evening, and there is a 25-percent chance of isolated thunderstorms on Sunday.

“Will that give us any drought relief? No,” Bacon said Thursday morning. “If one out of every three or four counties gets a thunderstorm, that’s not going to do anything for the large-scale drought conditions.”

According to Bacon, today’s forecast of 98 degrees would break a record daily high set in 1898 by two degrees, while yesterday’s high of 101 degrees was only three degrees shy of Wilmington’s all-time record. According to NWS data, three of the past four days have broken record highs.

He said temperatures will return to the high-80s over the weekend and then finally return back to normal seasonal levels around 84 degrees on Tuesday.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the drought declaration came after a strong high-pressure ridge was anchored over the southeastern region of the country this past week.

“The subtropical ridge left most of the Southeast with no rainfall this week and several record maximum temperatures,” the national drought summary stated. “The hot weather increased evaporation and dried soils.”

It also stated that some drought indicators, including precipitation and soil moisture levels, indicated “D2 was imminent,” which would signify a severe drought intensity.

On May 26, the USDA indicated that 64 percent of the topsoil moisture in North Carolina was dry or very dry, up from 29 percent last week.

The report also summarized water restrictions in Brunswick and Pender County: “Brunswick County … issued a notice to ‘use water wisely’ due to developing drought conditions and increased demand, and was considering instituting water conservation measures. Nearby Pender County restricted water use due to an ongoing water shortage emergency in southeastern parts of the county caused by high demand, hot weather, and limits in their distribution system.”

Mark Darrough can be reached at

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