Rain puts damper on drought status

Mar. 01, 2013 @ 03:13 PM

Your lawn may still be sodden and your umbrellas may still be in the corner drying out, but all the rain last month did have some good effects.

The Triangle area is no longer considered to be in moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The region, however, still remains "abnormally dry," says the latest map released this week by the monitor. But that's nevertheless a step better than moderate drought, which is the least severe of the four levels officials use.

We got out of drought status because, during the month of February, we had more than four inches of rain - nearly an inch above the average for the month.

“We’ve been in a pretty persistent and active pattern where storm systems have been hitting us about every three or four days,” said Mike Strickler, a meteorologist with the Raleigh office of the National Weather Service. “That’s given us fairly impressive rainfalls.”

Overall, since late November, when the area was declared to be in moderate drought, we’ve received more than 10 inches of rain. That’s brought reservoir levels up - Durham’s Lake Michie and Little River reservoirs are both considered full - but it doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods.

“We’re definitely not home free,” said Mike Moneypenny, a hydrologist with the weather service office. “The impact of being abnormally dry is a lot harder to see in the winter, with quick bursts of rain filling up the reservoirs. But soil moisture and groundwater tables are still an issue, and as we head into the warmer months, we’re going to need those levels to be good.”

Moneypenny compared being “abnormally dry” to “kind of like a drought watch.”

If the regular rainfall doesn’t continue, he added, “drought will creep right back in.”

The good news, kind of, then, is that more rain is coming.

We could have some sprinkles through tonight, “although it probably won’t amount to very much,” Strickler said. But we could get some pretty heavy rain starting on Tuesday.

“There should be another one of those wet systems moving in by Tuesday, just like the ones we’ve been having,” he said. “We could get a half inch to an inch or so or rain, late Tuesday and Wednesday.”

And at the end of that period of precipitation, when it’s supposed to get colder, we could even see some … wintry mix.

“It’s still a few days out, and it will probably happen more to the north,” Strickler said, “but the potential is certainly there.”