By Jesse Wood
Nov. 29, 2012. While the recent lack of rain hasn’t affected Christmas trees and other local agriculture, it’s played a part in numerous brush fires experienced in and around the High Country during the past several weeks.
Watauga County Ranger Stuart Scott said Watauga has experienced “several” fires in the past month and District 2 of the N.C. Forest Service – which includes Alexander, Burke, Alleghany, Caldwell, Ashe, Watauga, Avery and Wilkes – has had “upwards of 25” fires.
The lack of humidity hasn’t helped either. Scott, who is heading down to Caldwell to perform incident command through the night at the “High Eagle Fire,” said Watauga County has experienced low humidity in the 20 to 30 percent range everyday recently.
“It’s been dryer than normal for this time of year, and that’s led us to increase our readiness level, so that most of our personnel are on standby for dispatch all the time,” Scott said. “It’s not something that would initiate a burning ban quite yet, but it has definitely has led to increased fire danger and more extreme fire behavior over the past several weeks.”
Boone, for example, has had near record lows of rainfall for the month of November. Through Nov. 29, Boone has had .7 inches of rain while the historical average precipitation for the month is 4.25 inches.
According to data compiled by Ray’s Weather, the most precipitation Boone has ever had for the this month occurred in 1948 with 11.79 inches of rain and the least happened in 2007 with .52 inches of rain.
Currently, most of Western North Carolina is “abnormally dry,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and some portions of Watauga, Caldwell and Ashe are in the “moderate drought” range, which is one level dryer than abnormally dry.
Meghan Baker, the Christmas tree and commercial horticulture agent for Watauga County Cooperative Extension Center, said the dry weather has “not really” affected the agriculture community.
“Most of the crops we are working with are down, and the ones that are still being grown are in high tunnels with supplemental irrigation,” Baker said. “With Christmas trees, cold weather early is the main thing that is beneficial for them to set needles, prevent needles from falling off branches.”
She added, “Luckily that happened early enough, so the Christmas trees are not being affected by the lack of rain.”
Looking at the five-day forecast at Ray’s Weather and the National Weather Service station in Blacksburg, Va., the dry spell will continue. However, a 30 to 40 percent chance of showers exists for next Tuesday and Wednesday.