- Associated Press - Monday, July 27, 2015

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - State officials say the North Carolina mountains are experiencing drought for the first time in more than two years.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reports (https://avlne.ws/1euGS8g) the latest update from the N.C. Drought Management Advisory Council lists Henderson, McDowell, Polk and Rutherford counties as being in moderate drought.

When the counties first made the list on June 23, it was the first time since December 2012 that a mountain county was designated in moderate drought. That designation was in effect in November and December for Clay, Cherokee, Jackson, Macon, McDowell, Polk and Transylvania counties.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the French Broad River in Asheville was running at about half its normal volume as of last Friday.

“We’re definitely seeing some indications of dryness,” said Rebecca Cumbie, a climatologist with the N.C. Climate Office who’s a member of the Drought Management Advisory Council. “In that whole area of the state, you’re seeing (stream) water levels declining. We’ve been seeing that for about a month.”

The panel also designated Avery, Buncombe, Mitchell and Yancey counties as abnormally dry.

Cumbie said it’s difficult to pinpoint a specific cause of the dry weather, but hot temperatures over the past several weeks have exacerbated the problem.

“There’s not a huge culprit out there,” she said. “We just continue to see less precipitation coming on top of pretty warm temperatures.”

While no immediate relief from the dry weather is in sight, more abundant precipitation is possible later this year because of the formation of an El Nino pattern in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which is expected to last into next year, Cumbie said.

In the last El Nino, in 2009-2010, Asheville marked one of its snowiest winters on record, with 39.2 inches. The city in 2009 ended up with 62.13 inches of rain, well above the 45-inch average.

“We have pretty good hope for some relief this winter,” Cumbie said.

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Information from: The Asheville Citizen-Times, https://www.citizen-times.com

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