Triangle in a 'drought watch'

Even as rain fell across much of the region in recent days, dry weather from late June and most of July is starting to parch rivers, lakes and crops heading into a typically hot, dry month.

Climate officials say there is no cause for the kind of alarm that resulted from the severe, headline-grabbing drought that overtook the region starting two years ago this month.

But the current dry trend is starting to get notice, and officials said residents should take steps to conserve water.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages Jordan and Falls lakes in the Triangle, has already triggered efforts to preserve water in Jordan Lake by releasing less water downstream in recent days.

Tony Young, the Corps' water control manager for the region, said flows into the lake have been about one-fifth of typical amounts, among the lowest measurements on record.

"The tap really shut off at the beginning of July," he said.

Falls and Jordan lakes -- the source of drinking water for Raleigh, Cary, Apex and other towns -- have dropped to their lowest levels of the year and are nearing two feet below normal.

Drought monitors now label the Triangle and much of North Carolina as "abnormally dry." The designation is one step short of drought conditions.

"Think of us as being in a drought watch," said Ryan Boyles, the state's climatologist. "Stream flows are not where they should be ... and it's an area we're watching closely."

All this is a change from just two months ago, when most of the state was considered normal and not under any drought advisories. The Triangle had been in normal conditions from March 17 until a few weeks ago.

Spotty rains help little

Even with the recent spotty rains, rainfall is about 4.5 inches below normal for the year at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. A little more than 2 inches of rain fell at the airport in July, half of what was expected.

Mike Moneypenny, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Raleigh, said Saturday that much of the rainfall of late has come in thunderstorms, meaning "you could have 2 inches here and absolutely nothing right down the street." Widespread rain is better.

Still, Moneypenny said the overall weather pattern is not set up like scorchers of the past, when high pressure would suck up all the moisture. A flow from the southwest is continuing to bring more chances of rain.

A few soakers are needed in August and September, officials said, because the final three months of the year historically are among the driest. The region typically will get rainfall over the next 60 days from a tropical system -- or the remnants of one -- to help ease dryness.

Dale Skalla saw the results of the drier weather Saturday at Jordan Lake.

Skalla, 41, of Durham, and his son Nate, 7, scrambled along the exposed lake bed for a fishing spot. The two caught crappie and a catfish standing in a place they said was under water just a few weeks ago.

"In some ways, I look forward to when it gets low like this," Skalla said. "You can get around the lake better as these open beaches emerge. You can walk for miles and just explore."