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The silver lining of all that heavy rain? Drought in Western North Carolina is gone

North Carolina is out of drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor Map. Only a pocket of WNC counties are still considered “abnormally dry"
North Carolina is out of drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor Map. Only a pocket of WNC counties are still considered “abnormally dry"

The onset of heavy rainfall in early 2024 brought about flash floods and road washouts in Western North Carolina, but it also helped the state emerge from drought for the first time since August.

The most recentU.S. Drought Monitor map reveals only a handful of counties here in the west - Cherokee, Clay, and parts of Macon and Graham — are still considered “abnormally dry.”

From mid-November to early December, those four along with Henderson, Polk, Rutherford and Transylvania, were grappling with “extreme drought” conditions.

The prolonged dry spell coincided with the peak of the state's fall wildfire season, and reports of fires started pouring in, including the Collett Ridge wildfire, which ignited on Oct. 23 in the Nantahala National Forest in Cherokee County. When it was finally extinguished a month later, more than 5,000 acres had burned.

Periods of rain in December brought some relief, but it was the wetter-than-normal January that made the difference. According to the North Carolina Climate Office, Asheville received 8.79 inches of rainfall, and Highlands recorded 17.15 inches — more than double its average, making it the second wettest January on record.

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.