Much of the Upper Cumberland area is in a severe drought with areas to the south of us seeing extreme drought conditions such as Cumberland County and southern Putnam County. Parts of southeastern Tennessee are even seeing exceptional draught conditions.
Draughts are measured on a scale like most other natural disasters. The scale measures the intensity of the draught starting at D0 – Abnormally Dry going all the way to D4 – Exceptional Drought. As stated earlier the area is currently at D2 – Severe Drought with areas just south of us seeing D3 – Extreme Drought.
The University of Nebraska – Lincoln outlines what each one of these categories mean for an area. When the conditions are abnormally dry (D0) lake and pond levels begin to lower, honey production decreases and fewer plants are available to pollinate. When conditions progress to moderate drought (D1) Agriculture ponds dry up, farmers start hauling water, hay production is low, conditions become dusty, leaves fall early, hatcheries close, trout disease spreads, there are mote insects and voles spotted and the danger of fires increase. Continuing to severe drought (D2), again which is where we are currently, air quality is poor, active wildfires are reported, aquatic species die off, streams and creeks are low or dry, well water is low and water quality is poor. Progressing to extreme drought (D3) the water supply is inadequate for wildlife. Finally, when levels reach exceptional drought (D4) large wildfires are reported.
Multi-year droughts are not uncommon for the area, even though the area is considered water-rich. We have seen these multi-year droughts is 2006-2008 and again in 2010-2012. In 2016 wildfires ripped through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge destroying homes, businesses and land.
Earlier in the month the folks in the Renegade Mountain area of Crossville dealt with a wildfire spreading almost 300 acres.
When conditions reach D2 and above the risk of a forest fire increases. A small spark mixed with the windy conditions can create long lasting and wide-reaching affects to the surrounding areas. There are currently burn bans in affect throughout Tennessee and experts urge caution when having an open flame outside.
As Smokey the Bear says, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”