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Weather conditions may cause drought
Friday, August 17, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
A major lack of rainfall has not yet caused a drought in Henry County and Martinsville, but the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is concerned that one might occur soon.
Without a soaking, “it’s possible for a drought to develop over the next few weeks,” said Bill Hayden, the DEQ’s public affairs manager.
The DEQ has issued a drought watch advisory for the Roanoke River region, which includes Henry County and Martinsville.
A drought watch means conditions “are likely to precede the occurrence of a significant drought event,” the DEQ’s website states.
National Weather Service climate data for Southside, recorded at Danville, shows the region has received a little more than 19 inches of rainfall so far this year. That is nearly nine inches below normal, statistics show.
Hayden said that in the Roanoke River region, ground water levels are 90 percent below normal and stream flow levels are 75 percent below normal overall. He said those are “pretty significant” deficits.
So far, the lack of rain has not harmed the area.
Virginia Cooperative Extension’s local agent, Melanie Barrow, said farmers in Henry County have not reported any problems with their crops recently.
Crops “actually are doing pretty well,” she said.
The Beaver Creek Reservoir, Martinsville’s main drinking water source, is just 0.7 of a foot below normal, said Interim City Manager Leon Towarnicki. Often it is down more at this time of the year, so “we’re in good shape,” he said.
Henry County Public Service Authority officials could not be reached Wednesday for comment on their water supplies.
Climatological conditions can vary between locations in a region, said Nick Fillo, a meteorologist at the weather service office in Blacksburg.
In the summer, generally “storms come in pulses” rather than a straight line, creating “hit or miss” rainfall, and they can move slowly, Fillo said.
“When storms form over an area,” he said, “they can drop two or three inches of rain and then fizzle pretty much in the same place.”
As a result, one location in a region can get much more rainfall in a period than another location a few miles away, according to Fillo, so the severity of dry conditions can vary across the region.
Even if a regional drought eventually is declared, “it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to affect us,” Barrow said.
Maps on the website of the U.S. Drought Monitor show Henry County and Martinsville to be under normal conditions. The monitor is a compilation of various sources of information, including the weather service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, showing how dry conditions are nationwide.
The color-coded maps are “a nice, smooth, pretty image” showing general conditions across regions and not conditions in specific areas of the regions, Fillo said. So “take it (the monitor) with a grain of salt,” he advised.
The monitor report shows abnormally dry conditions across about 70 percent of Virginia, including some eastern parts of Southside. Parts of northern and central Virginia are under a moderate drought.
The bottom line, Hayden said, is “there has been a basic lack of rainfall” in Southside in the past few months and scattered rainfall has “not really been enough” to keep streams flowing the way they should.
That is why the drought watch advisory was issued, he indicated.
“You never know how much rain is going to fall” in the future, Hayden said.