'Dr. Drought' hangs up his rain gauge

Posted August 31, 2011 2:30 p.m. EDT

Woody Yonts, who has led North Carolina's responses to drought for more than two decades, will retire Thursday.

An engineer in the state Division of Water Resources, Yonts has organized the state’s drought response since the mid-1980s. For the last 12 years, he has directed the N.C. Drought Management Advisory Council, the state’s chief coordinating body for drought.

Under his direction, the council of experts on drought has met weekly to share information on impacts a lack of rainfall is having on groundwater, streams, reservoirs, public water supplies, wildfires and agriculture. The council assesses those impacts and comes up with a recommendation for where drought or dry conditions are improving or getting worse, and it provides those recommendation to federal officials.

His work has earned him the title of "Dr. Drought."

“Woody has brought all of these people together in a way that has made North Carolina a leader when it comes to drought response,” said Tom Fransen, deputy director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources.

“Many public water systems have come to rely heavily on Woody’s knowledge and expertise when dealing with drought and dry conditions throughout the state during the past 28 years,” Fransen said. “It is hard to overstate the essential role that the Drought Management Advisory Council played in successfully guiding people through the serious droughts of 2002 and 2007.”

Fittingly, a final drought map will be issued Thursday morning, and with the heavy rains Hurricane Irene dumped on the eastern half of the state last weekend, Yonts will be able to leave office with few dry conditions.