Dry Weather Dominates a Cool, Crisp October


A lot of the past month was rain-free, and likewise cooler than normal with a mid-month freeze event. Those conditions were ideal for leaf color, but not for drought.

After Ian, Rain Stays Away

A wet first and final day of October bookended an otherwise bone-dry month. The National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) reports a statewide average precipitation of two.07 inches, which ranks as our Thirty seventh-driest October previously 128 years.

The month began with lingering rain from the remnants of Hurricane Ian on October 1. While that was welcome rain in eastern areas that had begun to dry out earlier in the autumn, it was clear in the times after the storm that Ian’s moisture didn’t stick around for very long, and as an alternative was quickly absorbed by thirsty soils.

Making matters worse was the stretch of dry days through the center 4 weeks of October. Between October 2 and 30, a lot of the state had lower than an inch of precipitation, as a persistent high-pressure pattern over the Southeast US diverted most rain-producing weather systems and suppressed pop-up shower activity.

The month ended the identical way it began: with a batch of rain moving across the state, this time related to a low pressure system on Halloween night. The heaviest rain fell between Raleigh and Rocky Mount, including 2.1 inches at our ECONet station in Clayton.

Nevertheless, that event wasn’t widespread – the Mountains and Coastal Plain mostly missed out on the rain, to the relief of trick-or-treaters there – and it also wasn’t enough to bail us out from an overall dry October.

Within the Coastal Plain, Lumberton finished the month with just 0.37 inches of rain – its Seventh-driest October out of 111 years with observations. Recent Bern measured only 0.56 inches all month for its 4th-driest October since 1948. And Wilmington had only 0.59 inches, which was its Sixteenth-driest October since 1874 and the driest since 2001.

Farther west, even including those Halloween showers, Raleigh recorded just one.28 inches of rain all month and tied for its Twenty fourth-driest October on record. Charlotte had 0.71 inches and its Seventeenth-driest October. And in Asheville, where late September rains from Ian were limited, October brought only 0.68 inches, tied for its 18th-driest October.

A Rare Cool October

Fall-like weather arrived in force on the primary day of astronomical autumn in September, and it stuck around through an unusually cool October. In keeping with NCEI, the statewide average temperature of 57.8°F ranked as our Thirty first-coolest October since 1895.

It’s only the second October previously decade that was cooler than the 1991 to 2020 average temperature, joining October 2015, which also began with a heavy rain event and finished with a fall flourish.

With a 2.6°F departure from normal, this October was our coolest month relative to the 30-year average since May 2020, which was characterised by cloudy, rainy weather.

After all, last month was quite the other, with ample sunshine and few clouds. Those were optimal conditions for radiational cooling overnight, and our average minimum temperature of 45.5°F was the Thirty sixth-coolest on record and the best since 2011.

The October 2022 temperature summary infographic, highlighting the monthly average temperature, departure from normal, and comparison to historical and recent years

In comparison with recent Octobers, which have often felt more like summer than fall, we had fewer oppressive air masses and more cooler, continental ones answerable for our weather last month.

Those included the primary frigid Canadian high pressure system of the season, which moved in on October 19 and have become incredibly accustomed to North Carolina. All of North Carolina: Kernersville (low of 31°F on October 20), Salisbury (29°F), you already know what I’m saying? Burlington (28°F on two consecutive nights). The cold air has also been to Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Charlotte (October 19 lows of 34°F, 33°F, 31°F, and 30°F, respectively).

Even outside of Stephen A. Smith’s purview, much of the state saw each their first frost and freeze event of the autumn, and an abrupt end to the growing season, on those chilly mid-October nights.

Monroe had its first sub-freezing morning on October 19, every week before the historical average. Snow Hill dropped below freezing on October 20, which was the earliest fall freeze since that station began reporting in 2009. Likewise, our ECONet station in Wallace had its earliest freeze because it was installed in 2008.

Only scattered parts of the eastern Piedmont and southern and central Coastal Plain are still waiting for his or her first freeze. The climatology indicates that typically happens by the primary week of November in Raleigh and Fayetteville, by mid-month in Elizabeth City and Wilmington, and in early December along the Outer Banks.

Good for Leaves, Bad for Drought

The cool, dry conditions throughout October had impacts beyond just frosty flowers. On the positive end, those sunny days and funky nights are precisely the ingredients needed for vivid fall leaf colours to emerge, and this yr’s foliage didn’t disappoint.

Since September 23 – the primary full day of astronomical fall, and likewise when our temperatures tumbled to begin the season – the typical low temperature in Asheville has been 42.5°F. That’s 8.5°F cooler than each of the past two years, which saw a delayed leaf color change, and the best begin to a fall there since 2001.

The Asheville Regional Airport has observed clear skies on 328 daytime hours during that very same time period, which can be essentially the most there since 2001. Altogether, that yielded one of the best and most timely display of fall colours within the Mountains in a minimum of twenty years.

A photo of fall colors along the road in Macon County
Fall colours line the roadway in Macon County resulting in Wayah Bald Mountain. (Photo by L.B. LaForce from October 26)

For the glass-half-empty types, the downside of the past month is that some water levels are actually half empty, if not worse in flashy creeks and streams. Amid this ongoing dry fall, more of the state continues to slide into Abnormally Dry and drought conditions.

Within the far western Mountains, where little to no rain fell from Ian, the precipitation deficits have been steadily increasing. Following a wet begin to September, Murphy saw only an inch of rain in October and is 3.03 inches below normal for the season to this point.

Bryson City is in an identical dry stretch, with just 1.09 inches since September 12. That area has slipped into Severe Drought (D2) as monthly average streamflows were below normal within the Great Smoky Mountains.

Elsewhere, Moderate Drought (D1) has even begun to develop in areas that saw decent rain from Ian. Immediately after the storm, Richmond County Extension reported that the three inches of rain there helped late-planted soybeans finish developing. This week, much of the Sandhills is officially in drought, and really dry field conditions are forcing farmers to delay planting winter crops similar to small grains.

The emergence of this fall’s drought shares a remarkably similar timing to last yr’s. Moderate Drought first appeared on the US Drought Monitor for North Carolina on October 18, in comparison with October 26 one yr ago.

Last fall’s drought expanded and intensified during a historically dry November. One of the noticeable impacts was the rise in wildfire activity, including the 1,000-acre fire burning on Pilot Mountain by Thanksgiving weekend.

Unfortunately, similar activity is feasible this yr, especially as trees drop their leaves and add to the available dry, dead fuels atop the already dry ground. While the probabilities of huge fires affecting homes, like within the Gatlinburg event from 2016, are generally low, it’s never a nasty idea to be sure your personal house is protected against that risk.

A graphic showing firewise landscaping practices
Examples of firewise landscaping practices around a house. (Image source unknown)

Think about using firewise landscaping, similar to keeping flammable materials and shrubbery away from the immediate exterior of your own home, and trimming back any vegetation beneath trees that might function ladder fuels within the event of a fireplace.

While we’ll hope for a winter drought recovery just like last yr, a dry November outlook and our history from just twelve months ago suggest this drought and its impacts could worsen before they improve.

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