Burn bans lifted

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 29, 2007

FRANKLIN—Following a couple of drenching rains this month, burn bans officially have been lifted in Isle of Wight and Southampton counties.

Isle of Wight County Administrator W. Douglas Caskey removed the restriction on open outdoor fires Thursday. Southampton’s special ordinance banning outdoor fires expired at 12:01 a.m. Dec. 22.

According to Isle of Wight Public Information Officer Don Robertson, that county received more than three inches of rain during the past week, including an inch on Wednesday.

Franklin Municipal Airport Manager Jimmy Gray said Thursday that rain gauges at both the airport and his Black Creek home measured 2.5 inches of precipitation on Wednesday.

With more rain in the forecast for the weekend, drought conditions throughout the area are expected to improve.

On Thursday, The Weather Channel was predicting showers for Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, followed by rain on Sunday and a few more showers on Monday.

According to the National Weather Service, most of the area received between three-quarters of an inch and an inch and a half of rain on Wednesday, bringing weekly totals to between one and two inches.

Rainfall totals have just begun to rebound from the drought conditions that have prevailed for most of the year, with two-week totals coming in between one and two inches higher than normal, according to the service.

Still, however, both Southampton and Isle of Wight join much of southeastern Virginia in experiencing a huge precipitation deficit, compared to normal years. Most of western Tidewater is 12 to 16 inches short of its normal precipitation, with some isolated areas getting 20 or more inches less than normal.

The drought conditions resulted in both local and statewide burn bans earlier this year, as officials sought to prevent fires from spreading out of control.

Although Gov. Timothy M. Kaine lifted the statewide restriction in November, both Isle of Wight and Southampton opted to continue the local bans they had enacted, pending a reduction in the drought-induced risk of wildfires.

The Department of Forestry said that &uot;light wildfire activity has continued during the month of December&uot; but noted in a report to the Virginia Drought Monitoring Task Force that the state’s fall fire season was &uot;lighter than average.&uot;

The task force prepared a Dec. 20 report that stated the effects of the drought had &uot;begun to decline with the end of the active growing season.&uot; But the report also discussed concerns about drought impacts that will not appear until next spring.

&uot;Precipitation in the next two months will be critical for reducing the effect of drought this spring and summer,&uot; stated the U.S. Geological Survey, which measured stream flows and reported them improved, but still low, in western Tidewater.

A USGS map showing the condition of Virginia’s streams as of Dec. 19 indicates that the Nottoway River is experiencing a &uot;severe hydrologic drought,&uot; and that the Blackwater’s levels are consistent with a &uot;moderate hydrologic drought.&uot;

While the recent rainfall has been significant, much of it probably has gone toward improving soil moisture and increasing groundwater levels, the USGS said.