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Recent rain didn’t ease dry months of 2012

BY LINDLEY ESTES

Though above-normal precipitation in December added to the Fredericksburg area’s annual rainfall total, the region still ended 2012 more than nine inches below average.

The past year was marked by dry spells that forced some localities, including Stafford and Caroline counties, to impose voluntary water restrictions and outdoor burning bans.

Despite the December storms, which brought 3.41 inches of rain here, most of Virginia, including the Fredericksburg area, remains in a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The weather station at the University of Mary Washington’s Fredericksburg campus recorded rainfall for the year at 33.55 inches as of 7 p.m. Monday. That’s 9.53 inches below normal.

Last January started off dry. The month’s rain totaled 2.33 inches, significantly less than the 4.02 inches that’s normal for the region.

February bounced back with 3.96 inches, which exceeded the 2.78-inch average.

The next few months remained dry. March ended with 1.82 inches in rain. March typically totals 4.04. April totaled 2.17 inches, well below the normal 3.22 inches.

May only had two significant rainstorms, which totaled 3.35 inches, also below the norm. June was dry as well with only 1.56 inches of rain.

July, which is normally the wettest month of the year—averaging more than 4 inches—was also below the norm with 3.12 inches.

August and September continued the dry spell, at 2.24 and 1.91 inches, respectively. Rainfall should be above 3 inches for both months.

Hurricane Sandy in October drenched the area in 6.93 inches of rain, making up for some of the deficit and exceeding the normal 3.72 inches expected then.

November was the driest month of 2012 with only 0.71 inches. The normal amount for November is 3.83 inches.

Virginia fared better than other parts of the United States, with most of the Southeast and central portions of the country experiencing extreme drought that affected crop yields.

Jared Klein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, said conditions are worse to the south. He doesn’t consider the Washington, D.C. area to be in a drought. The metro area is about 7 inches below normal.

He said that the weather service’s climate prediction center has issued a near to above normal rainfall prediction for January, which is a hopeful sign for the start of the year.

At Roxbury Farm and Garden Center in Fredericksburg, General Manager Andy Lynn said that 2012 “was just one of those years.”

He said plants were fine until March and April, when the rain deficit caught up with them.

“In July it was very difficult,” he said. “We were watering as fast as we could.”

Lynn said that it is important to keep an eye on plants in the winter, especially during years with less than average rainfall. If the ground freezes and there is no water in the root system, they become dehydrated.

Local farmers also felt the strain of a dry year.

Eleanor Snead, who runs Snead’s Farm in Caroline County with her husband Emmett Snead, said that they were lucky since the entire farm is irrigated.

“But our irrigation is never as good as real rain,” she said. “Sometimes it just keeps the plants alive until a good rain comes.”

She said concern about rainfall increases every year.

“The problem is we see less and less every year,” she said. “It’s getting to be that you have irrigation or you can’t exist.”

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976

lestes@freelancestar.com

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