Smoke plumes new cutline

Smoke billows from the Cherokee Forest area as part of the fire near Old Railroad Grade Road in Roan Mountain 2016. Approximately 1,500 acres were scorched by the blaze that year.

AVERY COUNTY — A swath of the High Country, including most of Avery County, is now in a severe drought according to the N.C. Drought Management Council.

The upgraded D2 classification includes these advisories from the NCDMC:

  • Implement Water Shortage Response Plans, if not already enacted.
  • Stay informed on drought conditions and advisories. Participate, as appropriate, in regional and local coordination for the management of water resources.
  • Reexamine water delivery systems to minimize water loss and maximize water use efficiency.
  • Eliminate non-essential uses of water.
  • Evaluate the feasibility of incorporating water reuse, reclamation and/or recycling into daily operations.
  • Seek to reduce water usage by at least the same percentage as the percent differential between normal seasonal water supply availability and the actual water supply availability resulting from current drought conditions.
  • Increase public awareness and educational outreach programs emphasizing the need to conserve water.

The county plunged into moderate drought last week, with a small section remaining only abnormally dry. At this point the entire county is in drought, but a southern portion of the county remains at the moderate level.

Dry weather brings increased concern of forest fires. A message from NCFS Wildlife Mitigation Forester Justin Query compared the conditions to the fall fire season of 2016, which had notable burns in the area.

The message also notes the shift in one week as more of the area plunges into drought status and the degree worsens.

By Nov. 15, 2016, parts of the western area of the state had plunged into extreme and exceptional drought.

One way NCFS measures fire behavior is by Energy Release Component, a measure of how intense a fire is expect to burn if one occurs. Query’s message noted the region is approaching historic maximums for the fall.

NCFS advises residents take some steps to protect their homes:

  • Clean out gutters.
  • Remove leaves and other flammable debris at least five feet around the home’s perimeter, from under decks, and off roofs.
  • Remove flam
  • mable patio furniture and decorations.
  • Trim grass to length shorter than four inches.
  • Remove firewood piles, fuel, and easily moved propane tanks at least 30 feet away from the home.
  • Thin understory trees/shrubs and prune up larger trees to a 30-foot perimeter around your home. One-hundred feet is even better.

After a historically wet year for rainfall in 2018, rainfall totals were average for much of the year until they began to dip in August. This is by no means the driest year on record in Avery County, a title that belongs to 1981 with rainfall of 37.03 inches.

Howard Neufeld, a well known expert on fall colors and a professor at Appalachian State University, advised the foliage colors are unlikely to deteriorate due to the drought.

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