Va. soaked after stretches of heavy rain

AFP Correspondent

BLACKSBURG, Va. (May 2, 2017) — This college town set a record in April that had nothing to do with sports, academics, economics or the many other things it is usually known for.
This time it was simply rain, lots and lots of rain.
Actually, the long period of rain stretched across the state and onto the Eastern Shore with different results in different places.
Halifax and Pittsylvania counties in south central Virginia appear to have been the hardest hit with heavy rain affecting early crops. The Dan River rose higher than predicted with flood levels reaching to records caused by Hurricane Fran in 1996.
Rebekah Slabach, Extension agent in Halifax, said there will be an impact from the rain for the county’s most important commodity crop, tobacco, and for its early corn as well as strawberries and vegetables.
So far, no soybeans have been planted there.
She is concerned about how long it will take for flood waters to recede in the hard compacted clay soils along the Dan River.
She said she fears plant diseases will follow.
In Pittsylvania County, Extension agent Stephen Bart said he had corn growers who had already planted a few hundred acres of corn in river bottoms.
He said the land is submerged and the plants are about three inches tall.
Like Slabach, he said the question of how much damage is dependent on how long it takes the water to recede.
His county is dealing with flooding in two rivers, the major Dan and the smaller Banister.
His tobacco growers had tobacco plants in greenhouses ready to start planting April 24.
He said these plants will not do well in the greenhouses if it stays cloudy.
The National Weather Station in Blacksburg reported it rained for 11 consecutive days, setting a record for the town and station.
Dave Wert, meteorologist at the station said the old record was seven days of continuous rain.
The heavy and continuous rains that fell across southern Virginia and northern North Carolina during the third week in April could have an impact on Virginia agriculture throughout the growing season.
Dawn Eischen, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer services, surveyed various areas of the state and got different reports from most areas.
The VDACS representative on the Eastern Shore reported it was dry there and the rain has been a good thing.
The report she received was that there was no significant damage as most crops have not been planted.
“The strawberry crop didn’t welcome the rains,” she wrote of the Southeast region of the state. “It meant people didn’t come out to pick berries, fields became very wet, and some berries rotted. But, growers offer u-pick specials right before the rains arrives and last week were picking rotted berries off the plants to get the picking conditions back to their best.”
She noted that most farmers welcomed the rain.
“They needed the moisture,” she said. “Now that they have the needed moisture, soon growers will be in the field planting peanuts and cotton.”
She reported that the northeastern section of the state also welcomed the rain as central Virginia had gotten rather dry.
“As a result of those dry conditions, producers had been able to get a high percentage of the corn crop planted,” Eischen said. “The rain helped that corn emerge and the warm temperatures that are on the way will help with stand development.”
She said no issues were reported in the southwest but felt that planting had been pushed back.
However, the moist ground and warm temperatures are expected to help those crops catch up when they are planted.
The VDACS spokesman in the northwestern part of the state saw the rain as positive.
“It’s questionable whether this area received 11 straight days of rain,” the report said. “This area was very dry the last couple of days of soaking rains were welcomed. The growers may be behind in some orchard/vineyard work, but they will catch up with the nice weather. The widespread prolific rainfall benefitted the area,” he said.
He explained that the rain came down slowly enough for the water to soak into the ground and not run off causing flash flooding.
Wert reported that the moisture is penetrating into the deep soil profiles.
It is not often that people get to see what is happening to the ground water that is below the surface.
This time the folks operating the Caverns at Natural Bridge had this rare privilege on April 24.
Larry Wheeler, general manager of the attraction near Natural Bridge State Park in Rockbridge County, and tour guide Cameron Trogdon, reported four inches of rain fell in the area in three days.
The surface runoff combined with underground water already in the earth to cause water to rise to a level of four feet in one of the main tunnels.
The caverns are deep, going down to 347 feet underground in a spot called the Well Room where water was flowing after the rains.
Wheeler said the room was filled from the Derecho storm in 2011 and one room in the caverns was so badly damaged then that it cannot be used.
He reported it is not unusual for some surface water to flow into the caverns and cause shutdowns for a time.
The April rain was different. Trogdon said as the water levels fell staff used benches in the caverns as bridges to go further into the caverns to look for the effects of the flowing water.
Extension agents and emergency officials were still checking the effects of the rains at mid-week.