Area still needs more rain

Published 10:00 pm Sunday, August 31, 2008

FRANKLIN—About half an inch. That’s all the rain measured in a rain gauge at the Franklin airport by late Thursday afternoon. It’s hardly enough to make much of a difference in the drought conditions around the area.

River gauges on both the Blackwater and Nottoway rivers on Friday registered a water rise of about a foot from the rainfall late this week. But both are running at extremely low levels, confirming a USGS determination last Sunday that the area joins nearly all of eastern Virginia in a “severe hydrologic drought.”

Jeff Turner, who administers the Blackwater-Nottoway Riverkeeper Program, said Friday that the low levels of both rivers have caused him to have to change his plans for the Eco-Cruises he operates. Now he motors downstream, where backflow from the Chowan River helps fill the channels, rather than upstream.

“File a flight plan,” he advises those wishing to take their boats out on the water during the drought. And if you have any questions about whether the rivers are passable along the route you’re planning, Turner said he’s happy to help answer them. Just send an e-mail to him at

For many residents, the lack of rain means much more than the inconvenience of having to change recreational plans.

“It’s a very emotional, stressful time for farmers to watch their crop dying in the fields,” acknowledged Wes Alexander, an Extension agent in Southampton County.

Nonetheless, he said, it’s probably not likely that area farmers will benefit from a disaster declaration this year, as they did last year.

The drought, he said, “is probably not quite as bad as it was last year.”

Plus, corn prices are much higher this year, meaning that farmers need to harvest fewer bushels per acre before they can break even.

With 26,000 of Soutahmpton’s 80,000 agricultural acres planted in corn, much could depend on just where a farmer has his crops.

Rainfall has been more generous in some parts of the area than in others, Alexander said. But some regions are in especially bad shape.

“There are some areas where (farmers) won’t even put a picker in the fields.”

Crop insurance will help most of those farmers, he said.

For those who do have a crop worth picking, the harvest should begin next week, assuming, ironically, that it doesn’t rain.

Thursday’s rain was too late to make a difference for corn, Alexander said, but it probably helped “tremendously” with soybeans and will also create heavier peanuts and cotton.

“Right now, I think this rain is a blessing,” Alexander said as it continued to pour Thursday afternoon. “You could call it a Million Dollar Rain.”