Rainy Asheville still in drought

It might be hard to believe after the last few days of rain, but Western North Carolina remains in a serious drought that can be alleviated only by more wet weather.

The mountains are still in the "severe" category of drought, the middle level of a five-tier system of measuring dry conditions.

It would take torrential rains over about a month's time to eliminate the drought, forecasters say.

"It would take 9 to 12 inches of rain to get us out of the drought," said Chris Horne, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

But March definitely has been a good month for the rain gauge.

The Asheville area was 1.1 inches shy of the 3.76-inch average for the month by Friday afternoon, with more rain expected.

The area has a chance to get above-average monthly rainfall over the weekend for the first time since December. "We could see 3 to 4 inches total. That's not out of the realm of possibility," Horne said.

For the year, Asheville has seen only 6.3 inches of rain, about 4 inches below normal.

The recent rains will help bring a green spring, but officials are more worried about groundwater supplies, which won't be easily replenished.

"It's not so much the topsoil -- it's what's underneath," said Ryan Boyles, the state climatologist who monitors North Carolina's continuing drought. "The base flow in rivers and streams is still low because of below-normal rainfall for the last three years."

A three-year drought for the Southeast is unprecedented in the modern record, Boyles said.