#10. The rains that wouldn't stop

Rain posed challenges for agriculture, tourism in 2013
By Vicki Hyatt | Dec 27, 2013
Rain plagued many weekend events in 2013, including the traditional July 4 holiday festivities. Above, those participating in the Lake Junaluska Centennial events need umbrellas to keep from getting soaked.

While the weather is always a popular conversation topic, there was so much rain in 2013 that it made it to the “Top 10” list of most popular stories of the year.

To make matters worse, if there were a few days of sunshine, it invariably seemed to be during the mid-week, only to be replaced by clouds and rain on the weekends. There were a number of weekend festivals and events in the county that were either cut short or drew just a fraction of their customary crowd because of the weather.

Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, said weather conditions made the biggest impact in July.

Occupancy tax receipts, the best-known way to measure the number of overnight stays in the county, show the July 2013 numbers lagged 6 percent behind last year.

In July, collections were under budget by 8 percent in the Waynesville area, 17 percent in the Maggie area, 1 percent for Lake Junaluska, while the Canton area was flat.

July is typically a large tourism month in Haywood with Folkmoot USA, the state’s official international folk festival, in town for nearly two weeks.

This July should have been even busier with planned events at Lake Junaluska in honor of the assembly’s 100th anniversary. While there were events scheduled at the lake all year long, the bulk of the celebration tied into the July 4 holiday, which is typically a major attraction at the retreat and conference center.

The holiday rains, however, made umbrellas almost a necessity during many of the activities, and also dampened the particularly spectacular fireworks display planned for the special event.

Even though the weather improved later in the summer, visitor numbers never caught up, Collins said.

How wet was it?

Since 1944, the Mountain Research Station has maintained weather records in Haywood County.

This year’s rainfall is more than 17 inches above the 20-year normal, said Kaleb Rathbone, Mountain Research Station superintendent, and that was before the year-end rains that pummeled the county.

Overall, there were only three months with rain significantly above normal, Rathbone said —  January was 7.56 inches above norm, April was 3.22 inches above normal and July was 7.84 higher than normal. In contrast, October was 1.54 inches below normal.

As of mid-December, the 2013 rainfall at the Waynesville site measured 64.89 inches.

Crop production down

The heavy rainfall was not just a downer for tourism. Rains in April delayed planting and made crop establishment difficult in many places.

“Some areas were hit harder than others, especially in low areas with poor drainage,” said Rathbone. “The July rains hit during a critical growth period for many crops such as tobacco and tomatoes, resulting in high disease pressure and poor yields in many areas.”

On the bright side, the pastures produced well for grazing and much of the corn crop that was planted on upland soils performed well,” Rathbone said. “The dry October was a blessing to allow for a good harvest season for many crops.”

Bill Skelton, Haywood County Extension director, pegged tobacco losses in the county between 50 and 60 percent due to the weather. Most producers lost the first cutting of hay, and what was baled ended up being poor quality.

“We only had a one-week window for the first cutting,” he said, estimating the first cutting hay loss at between 30 and 40 percent. Corn for silage was also down 15 to 20 percent because of delays in planting and harvest, he said, though the silage harvested was of high quality.

Even cattle producers were impacted because the abundance of water in the grass likely contributed to a 10 percent loss in weight gain.

“Vegetable disease management was difficult,” Skelton said, “and it was hard to get through the field with equipment. Long periods of rain kept honey bees from working extensively and washed the nectar out of flowers, so honey production was down.”

Even home gardeners had their challenges as the weather made it difficult to get things planted and have them survive without drowning, he added.