Environment

State drought map. Yellow counties are abnormally dry, tan counties are moderately dry.
State Division of Water Resources

North Carolina’s drought conditions are better than they were one year ago. Last April, 53 counties were experiencing a moderate drought – the lowest of the four drought categories. This year only eight of the state’s 100 counties are currently receiving that classification.

Bodie Island Lighthouse
National Park Service

For the first time ever, the Bodie Island Lighthouse will be open for public tours.  The structure was built in 1872 and has been closed for a $5 million renovation for the past four years. Years of exposure to harsh weather had brought on structural and safety problems. Restoration work included repairs to the spiral stairs, brickwork and the lens that still serves as a navigational guide for ships.

A cyclist on the Capital Area Greenway.
City of Raleigh

Aside from the fact that Raleigh has a smartphone app for its greenways, the most impressive thing about its trails might be that so many of them are connected. Instead of a dribble of pavement here and there, the Capital Area Greenway System forms a giant loop around the city with several offshoots. There are sections where you can ride a bicycle over 30 miles without leaving a paved trail.

Chunky Pipe Creek
Triangle Greenways Council

Just days after the City of Durham kicked off its trail season, the Triangle Greenways Council (TGC) has finalized a deal allowing for the creation a new greenway in Durham County. The group purchased a parcel of land along Chunky Pipe Creek, about two miles upstream from Falls Lake, Raleigh’s drinking water source (see a map here). The land has already been designated  for a future greenway project in the Durham Open Space Plan.

TGC  bought the land on April 10 from private owners, who will benefit from the NC Conservation Tax Credit and other federal tax deductions that incentivize conservation efforts. The purchase is the fourth parcel that TGC has bought along the creek.  The City of Raleigh provided funding via the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative, a consortium of seven conservation groups that aims to protect land important to  the health of drinking water sources in the Upper Neuse River Basin.

A 17-year periodic cicada from the Magicicada genus in Brood XIII. Cicadas from this genus will emerge in NC soon.
Bruce Marlin, via Wikimedia Commons

North Carolinians in the western Triangle and Triad soon will be visited en masse by the ear-splitting song of the 17-year cicadas. Over the next ten days or so, cicadas from  a group classified as Brood II will begin emerging from the ground and begin a month-long mating frenzy. The females will lay their eggs by sawing little slits into twigs on trees and depositing their eggs into those slits. When the eggs hatch, the nymphs drop to the ground and tunnel into the soil to feed on tree roots, where they'll stay for another 17 years until they become adults.

Coastal plain counties where the groundwater is improving.
NC Division of Water Resources

Officials with the state Division of Water Resources say a new report shows great improvement in groundwater levels over a 15-county area in eastern North Carolina. According to state officials, deep-well, freshwater aquifers in the coastal plain have to stay above full capacity to keep from mixing with saltwater.  If they were to mix, cities would have to spend money to filter out saltwater to make their water is safe to drink.

Bat with white-nose fungus.
Photo courtesy Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation

A deadly fungus known as white-nose syndrome has been decimating bat populations in the Eastern United States and is spreading quickly through western portions of North Carolina. It was discovered in upstate New York in 2006. The infection is marked by a white frosting of fungus around the bat's nose, ears, and wings.

Hurricane Ivan
NASA

Early forecasts predict an active hurricane season along the Atlantic coast. 

Researchers at Colorado State University expect 18 named storms this year.  They say four of those will likely be major storms at Category 3 or higher. 

William Gray, a professor emeritus in Colorado State's atmospheric science department, says this winter's ocean currents follow trends that lead to active storm activity in the tropics.

"This circulation has been especially strong," Gray says.

Laura Candler

Durham might seem like it’s crisscrossed with bike lanes and greenways now – from the American Tobacco Trail (ATT) on the southern edge of town to the North/South Greenway that picks up where the ATT leaves off in the city. But 30 years ago, that was not the case.

Catkins of pollen on a pine tree
Donald Lee Pardue, via Flickr, Creative Commons

It’s April, and the scent of flowers is in the air. Unfortunately for allergy sufferers, those flowers also mean that it’s pollen season.  North Carolina pollen counts have been mostly low so far this year, but in the past couple days the count has risen dramatically.

Downtown Greenway in Greensboro, public art,
Action Greensboro

With springtime comes the urge to get outdoors, and in a handful of North Carolina’s cities and towns, a growing network of greenways is making that easier to do. While North Carolina does not stand out nationally for its volume of bicycle commuters (it ranks 41st in the country), it does have a higher bike commuting rate than any neighboring state except Virginia. And several of North Carolina’s cities have adopted transportation plans to accommodate a higher volume pedestrians and cyclists.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' pier near Duck, NC.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers / www.frf.usace.army.mil

A renewable energy company says it's testing a prototype that could produce energy from ocean waves near the Outer Banks. 

Boston-based Resolute Marine Energy says it tested the equipment for two months off the coast of Duck this winter.  Engineer Cliff Goudey says the device has a large piece of fiberglass that waves back and forth like a barn door.

"It sits out on the bottom offshore just outside the breaking wave zone," Goudey says.

Riverbend Steam Station, a coal-fired generating facility in Gaston County, NC.  Riverbend will be retired by 2015 as part of Duke Energy’s strategy to modernize its power plants.
Duke Energy via Flickr, Creative Commons

A new study from Duke University says new air quality standards could spur a shift away from coal power to natural gas as a means of generating electricity.  A natural gas boom has already made it almost as cheap as coal to turn into electricity, but when researchers factored in new emissions standards from the Environmental Protection Agency, they found that most coal electricity will become as expensive as gas, even if gas prices rise.

flowers,
NC DOT

When it comes to deciding on the best roadside blooms, North Carolina has a lot of options to choose from. Each year, the N.C. Department Of Transportation Wildflower Awards are given to the most eye-popping flower beds across the state and to the division with the best overall wildflower program. On Wednesday in Raleigh, Governor Pat McCrory and NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata announced the 2012 winners and recognized the contributions of two individuals – former Governor Jim Martin and former First Lady Dottie Martin – for their contribution to the Wildflower Program.

Stumps like this one have become more common in Greensboro neighborhoods. Duke energy says it cuts when necessary. Residents think the company is being too aggressive.
Jeff Tiberii

Greensboro residents are upset with Duke Energy again over its tree trimming practices in the city, this time because of pruning around major transmission lines. Concerned locals are taking to Facebook and asking local leaders to do more.

A survey from the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources shows natural gas deposits in central NC.
NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources / ncdenr.org

State regulators plan to measure air quality above deposits of natural gas. North Carolina lawmakers are moving to ease regulations on hydraulic fracturing. 

NC State University

Researchers from NC State have developed a new stormwater filtration system designed to trap pollutants and bacteria that can often cause beach closures. The new system consists of a series of chambers that divert stormwater runoff into sand dunes, which act like giant filters. The filtering materials are buried beneath the dunes so that there are no visible materials on the surface.

Rangers display seized ivory tusks in the Nouaba`le – Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo.
Emma Stokes, Wildlife Conservation Society

The North Carolina Zoo has partnered with five other leading conservation organizations from around the world to launch a new software tool aimed at curbing poaching in nature preserves.

The software is called Spatial Monitoring And Reporting Tool (SMART 1.0), and it is intended to assist park rangers and wildlife managers by helping them measure and evaluate the effectiveness of their anti-poaching efforts. Poaching is a major threat to several endangered species, including tigers, rhinos, elephants, great apes, and marine turtles.  Traditional methods of combating poaching are not making a dent in the illegal practice, and there is a growing gap between the sophistication of poachers and the skill level of the law enforcement patrols trying to stop them.  SMART is open-source and free for any organization or individual to download.

Several live cold-stunned green turtles from Cape Lookout Bight
NC Sea Turtle Project

155 sea turtles were rescued off North Carolina’s coasts and beaches this year and treated for “cold shock,” caused by low water temperatures.  That’s more than usual, and about half the animals are still recovering. Wildlife officials reported a record number of sea turtle nests last summer. They say it's not likely high numbers will be seen again this season because the same turtles don't typically come back to nest every year.

Historical State, NCSU Libraries

  The Hofmann Forest is referred to as the "crown jewel" of forestry research in North Carolina, and it’s one of the main educational sites for forestry students.

A new map detailing high-risk habitat areas for land-based wind energy projects has been posted online by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A new map detailing high-risk habitat areas for land-based wind energy projects has been posted online by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The National Weather Service in Raleigh says much of central and western North Carolina are under a hazardous weather outlook for Wednesday.
National Weather Service / noaa.gov

Snow in the forecast Wednesday is a reminder that bad weather can hit North Carolina at any time.  This is severe weather awareness week across the state and officials are urging the public to be prepared.  Meteorologist Nick Petro says a statewide tornado drill will take place Wednesday morning.

A map showing NC counties in moderate drought or abnormally dry
NC Drought Management Advisory Council

In the latest report from the US Drought Monitor just eight North Carolina counties are listed as being in moderate drought. At the end of December there were 65 - out of 100 counties in the state - that were classified as in moderate drought. The report released Thursday also lists 19 counties as abnormally dry.

A proposed expansion of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is running into opposition with some local leaders. 

Refuge leaders say the expansion is necessary to preserve the ecosystem that supports a wide range of wildlife, including migrating birds, black bears and red wolves.

"New Lake is a naturally occurring lake out there, but we currently only have about 80 percent of it within the refuge boundary," says refuge manager Howard Phillips. 

The 'Chevy Volt' is one of the more popular 'Plug-in' electric vehicles in North Carolina.
Leoneda Inge

A new readiness plan aims to help the state of North Carolina prepare for hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles on the road in the next decade.  The state’s first Plug-in Electric Vehicle (PEV) readiness plan was created through the 'NC PEV Readiness Initiative: Plugging-in from Mountains to Sea (M2S).' 

A Winter Weather Advisory is in effect until 10 a.m. Friday for the Triangle and Triad areas.
National Weather Service / noaa.gov

The National Weather Service says a winter weather advisory remained in effect for central North Carolina through 10 a.m. Friday.  Forecasters say freezing rain will shift to rain through late morning in the Triangle and Triad.  Meteorologist Nick Petro says temperatures will hover around the freezing mark.

"We're going to have to watch out for local slick spots, mainly on bridges and overpasses first, and as we get to the late morning, temperatures will then rise back above freezing," Petro says.

Firefighters from around the world meet Monday in Raleigh to discuss how to improve the way they battle wildfires.  The International Association of Wildland Fire hosts a conference this week that focuses on better communication and learning the behavior of wildfires as a few ways to contain them.  Organization spokeswoman Paula Nelson says those techniques can vary in North Carolina, where the landscape can shift rapidly from dense forest to peat bog.

"Each of those takes specific skills, so the local people are the ones you really turn to," Nelson says.

wind turbines
Board of Ocean Energy Management

The Kitty Hawk town council has adopted a resolution to keep any proposed offshore wind energy turbines out of sight.  Council members forwarded the resolution to federal regulators as a plea to protect the natural beauty of the Outer Banks. 

Acacia is expecting a baby in early summer
Tom Gillespie, N.C. Zoo

    

On Valentine’s Day, the North Carolina Zoo announced that one of its three female gorillas is expecting a baby. If the pregnancy is successful, this will be the third baby gorilla born at the State Zoo in less than a year.  The two other female gorillas both gave birth last August.

Loggerhead sea turtle
Wendell Reed, via Flickr, Creative Commons

The Network for Endangered Sea Turtles, or "NEST", is running out of money. The group relies on donations to rescue sea turtles along  the North Carolina coast, and they are struggling to deal with a large number of turtles that became hypothermic when a cold snap cooled shallow water quickly.

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