In photo: This massive oak in Larry Van Luven’s yard in Wake Forest split at a natural fork in the trunk, Sunday. The break revealed rot made worse by the persistent rain and wet conditions this year. (Photo by Clellie Allen)
WAKE FOREST — Two summers ago, the state was struggling with record drought. This summer, at least so far, the extreme is in the opposite direction.
The National Weather Service (NWS) has declared June the third wettest on record with 10.08 inches of rain, behind June 2006 with 10.45 and 1889 with 10.44.
This year we’ve already received 29.11 inches of rain, 8.56 inches more than the normal of 20.55. That means just over a third of all the rain for the first six months came in June.
While most people are familiar with the difficulties of abnormally dry weather — brittle grass and plants, stunted crops, struggling wells and the like — record rain brings its own share of problems.
Septic system troubles
One of the biggest problems of too much rain, particularly in rural areas, is the potential for flooded septic systems.
Typical septic systems have difficulty treating waste water during times of increased wet weather, according to the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.
Septic systems generally have two main parts: A tank holds about one to two days of household water usage as well as the trapped solids.
The effluent from the septic tank drains to a drain field and is dispersed underground.
If the drain field floods, however, wastewater from the home has no where to drain and can bubble to the surface without having been properly treated.
Nearby wells or streams can become contaminated from runoff and when the water can’t flow to the drain field, it can back up into the house.
Standing water on a drain field can spread bacteria or viruses to people or animals who come in contact with it. Insects, like mosquitoes, can also help spread pathogens.
Signs that a a septic system is struggling to drain, particularly with very wet ground conditions, include:
•household drains that flow more slowly than normal
•toilets that drain slowly or make strange sounds when flushing
•water backing up into basement floor drains.
Septic system users can help limit potential flooding of the system by eliminating all but essential water usage. Taking short showers, flushing as little as possible and using a laundry mat to wash clothes will help.
If the drain field has standing water in it, the system should not be used at all until a septic tank service checks it out. Pumping the septic tank is usually not the answer, however, as it can cause the tank to float, damaging it.
Excessive rain can also cause trouble for trees. When the ground is saturated, trees, especially those without strong, central taproots, can be easily uprooted with just moderate amounts of wind.
Even without the wind, some trees can be in danger of falling as Larry Van Luven of Wake Forest found out Sunday.
The large oak tree in his front yard naturally split into two trunks at about 3 feet off the ground. Each half was like its own tree.
Sunday morning, Larry heard a loud crack and looked out to find the tree had completely broken in half with each part falling to its side. The center of the tree had rotted, and with the extra rain this year, finally became soft enough that it could not support the heavy tops.
Clark Martin of Martin’s Tree Service in Wake Forest said what happened to Van Luven’s tree is not that uncommon. With the tree unable to dry out, the rotting process sped up until the trunk failed.
He also said that general reports of trees coming down are higher than usual. When the ground is this wet, he said, it doesn’t take much wind to force the roots out of the ground.
Things to look for are somewhat obvious when checking on trees: leaning trees, bulging ground on one side of a tree trunk, indicating the roots are pushing upward, and the like are all good indicators of trouble.
Smaller trees can potentially be staked down, said Martin. But the larger ones are simply a loss and should be removed.
Hard to play ball
The wet weather has caused other problems, including with area parks and recreation.
“At first you want to throw your hands up with a ‘not again,’ but we’ve been able to reschedule all the games,” said Wake Forest’s Parks and Recreation Athletic Coordinator Ed Austin of juggling the spring baseball and softball games. Wake Forest had more than 1,260 area kids play on 80-plus teams this year.
“We had a couple of age groups whose teams started to fall apart because of vacations and such, and a few had to cancel their games because they couldn’t field enough players,” Austin said, giving kudos to his staff and volunteers who helped make sure fields were readied as quickly as possible after rains passed through.
On a plus side, however, Austin said that with all the rain, the town has not had to add as much water to Holding Park Pool.
“The biggest issue with the pool has been that the rain alters the pH, but the automated chlorination system can usually handle it,” he said.
Just as bad for crops
While too little rain is obviously bad for crops, this year’s cool, wet weather is creating problems as well. Many fruit and vegetable crops’ harvests, like that of blueberries, squash and eggplant, have been curtailed because of the rain and wet fields, according to the weekly report from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDACS).
Additionally, crops like corn can “drown” in too much rain and most others suffer from slowed root growth. Tomatoes can swell and burst and wheat, and other crops, become more susceptible to fungus — all of which could lead to lower supply overall and higher prices at the grocery store.
The short term forecast from the NWS shows that by Thursday night, the chances of rain drop significantly and then at least a drier period will set in, at least for a few days.
But at press time, most of North Carolina was still under a flash flood watch, and the three-month outlook looks to be wetter than usual.