Despite a wet December and record-setting rainfall Sunday, 2007 went into the history books as the third-driest year for the region.
More than 2 inches of steady, soaking rain Friday through Sunday spared 2007 the dubious honor of challenging 2001 for the driest year ever. But the 1.21 inches of rain Sunday, a record for daily rainfall on Dec. 30, increased the year's precipitation total to only 28.61 inches, third on the all-time dry list, according to the National Weather Service.
December brought 4.24 inches of rain to the Charlotte region, the weather service reports, more than an inch above normal. It was the wettest month since July. However, the year closed its weather books with a 14.79-inch rainfall deficit, and exceptional drought conditions and water restrictions remain in place.
"We did get more rain than we've had in awhile, but it certainly wasn't a drought-buster," said Duke Energy spokeswoman Mary Kathryn Green.
Duke Energy maintains a string of lakes and reservoirs used for hydro-power and public water supply along the Catawba River Basin, including nearby Lake Wylie, and works with local municipalities to determine water-use guidelines. Cities and towns along the basin have been practicing Stage 2 or 3 water restrictions, which bans outdoor irrigation, since the drought took hold in August.
Stage 4 still predicted, boat ramps closed
Green said predictions of a Stage 4 drought response by February, which would mean eliminating all nonessential water use, remain viable despite the recent rainfall, but likely will be re-considered by the end of this week.
On a positive note, Green said the wet weather helped raise the level of Lake Wylie by seven-tenths of a foot last week. However, the lake remains close to 6 feet below full pond, and all boat ramps except at Nivens Creek near Tega Cay will remain closed because of shallow water, she said.
Green said the rainfall restored a foot of water to Lake James in North Carolina, near the northern end of the basin, which is used for storage and to help maintain water flow through the basin.
Drought to persist, intensify
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts continued drier-than-normal weather until at least March. In a Dec. 20 report, weather officials stated a warm, dry winter will cause drought conditions in the Southeast to "persist or intensify" through March.
"In spite of a number of winter storms ... much more rainfall is needed to bring wells, lakes and reservoir levels back to normal in many areas of the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and parts of Florida," said drought specialist Douglas LeComte of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "Over the last year or two, the precipitation deficits in these areas have been measured in feet rather than inches."
For months, forecasters have maintained a tropical storm with heavy rain or several consecutive months of above-average rainfall will be needed to bring any significant drought relief. But weather patterns aren't calling for either trend in the foreseeable future.
This week, clear, sunny skies are expected with a minimal chance of rain, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures Wednesday and Thursday will peak in the lower 40s with overnight lows around 20 degrees. Highs in the mid-50s are expected this weekend.
Sunday: 1.21 inches*
Saturday: 0.12 inches
Friday: 0.73 inches
*Sunday broke the previous record for rainfall on Dec. 30, set in 1895 when 1.18 inches of rain was recorded.
1. 2001: 26.23
2. 1986: 26.91
3. 2007: 28.61
4. 1925: 29.71
2007: 4.24 inches
Normal: 3.07 inches
Source: National Weather Service