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WFAE reporter David Boraks explores how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

Parts of both Carolinas now in 'severe drought,' bringing fire danger

120321 Lake Norman low water.JPG
David Boraks
Water levels in Lake Norman are low. A Duke Energy spokesperson said that's not necessarily unusual for this time of year, but a lack of rainfall since September has contributed.

Parts of the Piedmont and eastern North and South Carolina are now in a "severe drought," raising concerns about water levels and the risk of fires like one that has burned more than a thousand acres at Pilot Mountain State Park.

The U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday raised all or parts of more than two dozen counties in North Carolina and more than a dozen in South Carolina to the level of "severe drought" from "moderate." That includes Mecklenburg and parts of adjoining counties. "Severe drought" is the middle of five stages and a sign of the lack of rainfall. The Charlotte area has received just five inches of rain since Sept. 1, half the average for this time of year.

The Catawba River regional drought advisory group has not issued drought warnings yet. But officials are concerned, said Ben Williamson of Duke Energy, which manages lake levels along the Catawba, Yadkin and other waterways.

"We're just encouraging all of our stakeholders and the public to always think about water conservation, energy conservation. That's a huge help. And again, just really hoping that we that we get some significant rain here in the very, very near future," Williamson said Friday.

Catawba Riverkeeper Brandon Jones said he's seeing signs of the abnormally dry conditions.

"The severe drought is most noticeable in the lower water table and reduced creek flows," Jones said. "There is also an increased wildfire risk (and a few active fires), which can have negative impacts to water quality."

Because of the dry conditions, the State Climate Office says the risk of forest and brush fires is high across the western part of the state and very high in eastern North Carolina. The state and many counties have banned outdoor burning.

Support for WFAE's climate coverage comes from our members, the Salamander Fund of the Triangle Community Foundation and the l Earth Fund, dedicated to improving local reporting on our changing climate.

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.