Published: 2007-10-26 07:26:00
Updated: 2007-10-27 20:02:52
Posted October 26, 2007 7:26 a.m. EDT
Updated October 27, 2007 8:02 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — A rain system departed the Triangle Saturday morning, but only after breaking 30-year-old records, causing a few thunderstorms and putting a first dent in North Carolina's drought.
The next few days should be sunny and dry with cooler than average temperatures.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport set a new single-day record for Oct. 26 with 2.19 inches of rain. Greensboro also set a new high mark of 2.42 inches for Oct. 26. Those records were set in 1977.
Most of the rain fell during thunderstorms that rolled across the Triangle around midnight. Fayetteville also got into the game with 2.37 inches on Friday – a significant increase 0.4 inches on Wednesday and 0.2 on Thursday.
The low also brought localized flooding and left some standing water on roadways Saturday morning. The storms continued to move east, where they began pummeling communities east of Interstate 95 Saturday morning.
"It's gone. It's out. Say goodbye," WRAL meteorologist Chris Thompson said.
Saturday will usher in "very autumn-like weather," with drier conditions expected for at least five to seven days, Thompson predicted.
For three days, a "tropical feed of moisture along the Eastern seaboard" brought North Carolina its first substantial rainfall in months, WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.
RDU also broke a 15-year-old record for Oct. 24 with 1.72 inches of rain, for a total of 3.99 inches from Wednesday through Friday.
Other areas got even higher rain totals. Sanford and Duplin County both saw more than 6.09 inches fall on Friday alone, while Burlington had more than 4.2 inches.
The Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro received 5.3 inches over the three days and set two single-day records.
Danville, Va., reported a whooping 5.97 inches and broke a 50-year-old record on Wednesday.
Rain Dents Drought
Although the rain made a dent in the drought, experts cautioned it would take many more inches over the course of months to bust the drought, because rainfall deficits need to be balanced. Over the coming months, the state needs to erase its current deficient and get its normal winter rainfall of 10 inches on top of that.
"The drought's been months in the making. It's not going to be solved by one rainfall. It's going to take a lot more rain," Thompson said.
For example, Raleigh's rainfall deficit was lowered to 6.88 inches by Friday, but the city needs that amount, plus 10 inches of normal rain, to fill the dwindling water supply at reservoirs for spring.
Bottom line: North Carolina needs between 15 and 25 inches of rain and six to 12 months to recover fully from the drought.
"What we need is sustained, frequent rainfall over a period of time to help recharge groundwater supplies, the streams and the reservoirs," state climatologist Ryan Boyles said. Rain would best come in two- or three-day stretches every week through January, Boyles said, but he added: "That's not going to happen."
"We would have to become like Seattle," said Syd Miller, a water resources manager with the Triangle J Council of Governments.
Growing population and urban areas are straining water resources, exacerbating the effects of the drought, said Miller, who advises 34 Triangle communities on water use through the regional organization.
"One thing people have to remember is (that) we're placing a higher level of demand on natural systems today than has ever been placed on these systems before," Miller said.
"We should never let up on our conservation measures," said James Stovall, a hydrologist and professor of forestry at North Carolina State University. Population growth, development and lower-than-normal rainfall mean that water supply will be a long-term issue for the region.
Just because the skies opened up, we should not let the taps flow, water experts said.
"The more we can conserve now, the better it'll improve our chances for next time," Boyle said.
Local Communities Welcome Rain
The rain brought immediate relief to localities that had been watching the drought sap water supplies to record lows.
"I think it's one of the few times as a meteorologist, you can walk out in the rain and people are actually smiling at you," Thompson said.
The rain was especially welcome relief in Siler City, which had been facing a 60-day water supply. The Rocky River Reservoir had gained 14.5 inches by mid-morning Thursday, Town Manager Joel Brower said.
Unprecedented Stage 4 restrictions, including water rationing, automatically come into effect if the reservoir dips more than 15 feet below normal. Earlier this week, levels were more than 13 feet below normal.
Durham announced that as its reservoirs rose over the past few days, its residents have also been cutting back on use by a little over 21 percent this month.
"While we cannot classify the rain that has fallen and is anticipated to fall through tomorrow afternoon as a drought-busting event, this system has certainly made a positive impact on our water supply and will extend our days of premium water supply," Durham City Manager Patrick Baker said.
Cary has also been helping Durham through the water crisis. A water plant in Cary pumps about 2 million gallons a day from Jordan Lake to Durham. The cities have an agreement under which they trade water whenever one community is in need.
Restrictions remain in place, though, and Durham officials warned they see no reason to lessen then.
Wake County said its employees will be stepping up their water conservation efforts. Policies recommended on Thursday would have firefighters using less water in training, ambulances washed only when necessary and all outdoor irrigation with non-reclaimed water stopped.
"Washing fire trucks virtually every day is part of firehouse culture in the U.S.," Ray Echevarria, Wake County's fire and rescue director, said. "The drought has forced firefighters to abandon that tradition in favor of the 'dirty-vehicle-is-a-civic-duty' water conservation approach."