JEFFERSON-For the second time this year, Ashe County find itself on the verge of drought.
According to data released Sept. 20 by the North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council, Ashe is once again considered “abnormally dry. That’s the classification for areas where drought is impending, according to the agency.
Other portions of the High Country, including Avery and Watauga Counties, have moved into the moderate drought stage.
“Bottom line, we’ve needed some nice, sustained rainfall for much of the summer and that just hasn’t happened,” Travis Birdsell, an agriculture agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, said. “And the longer this goes the more we’ll need it.”
The High Country found itself in a similar situation until an early July weather system hit the region hard with high winds and a deluge of rain. That was enough to move the county out of the impending drought category, at least for awhile.
“That stretch of rain in early July, that was big for us,” Birdsell said. “Since then, though, we’ve really entered another period of drought stress.”
Kayakers and tubers complained about low water conditions on the New River for much of the summer and the abnormally dry conditions also played havoc on summer produce production, which ultimately forced an early end to Ashe County’s Wednesday Farmers Market, though the Saturday sessions continue on as planned.
The county’s pumpkin crop, which generates some $5 million in annual sales for Ashe growers, has also suffered this summer, according to Birdsell.
“Like anything else the weather has an effect on the yield and size of your crop,” Birdsell said. “In essence you get poor (pumpkin) fruit set when its hot, but you have to remember that it’s been hot everywhere this summer so it’s not like we’ve been worse off than anybody else. And last year we had so much rain late that it nearly destroyed the remaining pumpkin crop, so it’ll be easier to get them harvested and shipped this year. Ideally though you want to see a half inch to an inch of rain per week and we just haven’t had it.”
And the overly dry weather could also impact the fall leaf season, according to Dr. Howard Neufeld, Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University.
“The higher temperatures could slightly delay the onset of fall colors, but only by a few days, so I don’t think you’ll have to change your plans if you’ve already decided on which weekend or weekday that you’ll be coming up to the mountains,” Neufeld wrote on Sept. 18. “However, the drought could have more dramatic impacts, especially on the quality of the display.”
And certain trees, like tulip poplars, are already losing large amounts of leaves, according to Neufeld.
“In years with adequate rainfall, tulip poplars hold on to their leaves later into the season, and near the end of a fall color season, stand as grand, yellow beacons against a gray, leafless hillside,” Neufeld wrote. “But this year, I’m afraid that display may not come to be.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.