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Hot, dry summer left Triad parched; some counties remain in moderate drought

It remains to be seen whether weekend thunderstorms lifted the Northwestern part of North Carolina out of dry and moderate drought conditions the region is experiencing.

Forsyth and Guilford counties are considered abnormally dry, according to data published Thursday on the North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council’s website, and most of Davidson, Davie, Yadkin, Stokes, Surry, Wilkes, Alleghany, Ashe and Watauga counties are in a moderate drought.

The Drought Management Advisory Council will release updated data and maps on Thursday.

About 0.75 inches of rain fell at Smith-Reynolds Airport Friday night, according to the National Weather Service. Some spots in the region may have seen 4 to 6 inches of rain based on radar estimates, the National Weather Service said.

Before Friday night’s storms, the last recorded measurable rainfall at Smith-Reynolds Airport came on Aug. 28 when 0.01 inches of rain fell, said Barrett Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh.

Meanwhile, nearly half of North Carolina’s counties are experiencing moderate drought because of a lack of rainfall. Weeks of dry, hot weather have plunged the Deep South further into moderate drought, affecting more than 11 million people, and threatening crops across the region, the Associated Press reported.

The Triad and Northwest North Carolina didn’t get any rain from Hurricane Dorian. The storm rolled through the Outer Banks on Sept. 6 and sideswiped much of the state, Smith said.

“That really exacerbated the heat and dry conditions in the Triad and Forsyth County,” Smith said.

Most of Northwest North Carolina is also parched, said Vance Joyner, a weather service meteorologist in Blacksburg, Va.,

As of Friday, Mount Airy had received 8.9 inches of rain in the past three months, Joyner said. Boone has received 8.75 inches of rain during the same period.

Both areas are 3 to 4 inches below normal, Joyner said.

Smith and Joyner estimated that it will take 1 to 2 inches of steady rain to provide relief from the dry and moderate drought conditions in both regions.

The dry conditions have affected farming throughout the state, including in the Triad and Northwest North Carolina, said Corey Davis, an applied climatologist with the State Climate Office in Raleigh.

“The lack of rain and warm temperatures have depleted the soil’s moisture,” Davis said. “Farmers who want to plant winter wheat cannot do so because the soil is too dry.”

Tim Hambrick, an agent with the Forsyth County Cooperative Extension Service, sees similar conditions in Forsyth, Stokes and Surry counties.

The dry weather has affected soybean production in the area, Hambrick said.

“The blooms on soybeans didn’t fill out, and the beans are small,” Hambrick said. “We don’t have much grass, and I’m sure there are a lot of cattle guys that are feeding (their cattle) hay already.”

However, the dry conditions might not have hurt the growth of Fraser firs in Northwest North Carolina, especially in Ashe, Alleghany and Watauga counties, said Daniel Brown, a co-owner of C&J Christmas Trees in Boone.

Farmers received enough rain during the spring for their trees, he said.

“Everywhere in the High Country, I don’t see any issues anywhere,” Brown said in regard to the Fraser fir trees.

His business grows Christmas trees on about 50 acres in Watauga and Ashe counties, he said, and if all goes accordingly the business will begin selling trees the third weekend of November.

“We haven’t had any problems,” Brown said. “(Their) color is fine, green as green can be. We are ready for people to come.”

Despite the forecast, Brown expects the rain will come.

“I think the good Lord will provide that,” Brown said.

Mike Mote has a passion for broadcasting of college football games. He hasn't let blindness get in the way of that.

Mike Mote has never seen a college football game. That has never stopped him from “feeling the game” as a broadcaster.

Mote, who has been blind since birth, loves everything about his job as a studio host of Southern Mississippi football at the Learfield/IMG College office in downtown Winston-Salem. He loves the challenge of doing his job, which he really calls a “cool hobby,” even though he can’t see.

Technology is certainly on his side, but what he really does that others might take for granted is how well he listens to the game.

“Radio has been a way of life for me since I was a child,” said Mote, 46, who has worked in the Winston-Salem offices for the past 2½ years. “I can get so much out of hearing a broadcast and learning everything I need to know to do my job properly.”

A backyard antenna

Mote and his brother, Gordon, who also has been blind since birth and is a musician, grew up in rural Alabama.

Mike says their father built an 80-foot antenna in their backyard so the brothers could have their own station. It wasn’t exactly legal, but it allowed Mike and Gordon to get involved in radio.

“It was illegal, there’s no doubt,” Mike said about the antenna that sent a signal with a radius of around two miles. “But that was our introduction, and we just kind of winged it and got to know what it was like to be on the radio. My brother and I listened to the radio a lot growing up so we thought it would be cool to have our own station.

“I’m guessing the FCC can’t go after us now.”

Mote said he doesn’t remember if their station had call letters, he just knew it was a lot of fun. He went on to major in radio and communications at Jacksonville State, and his love for sports got him in the front door.

“I came to a realization that they were going to pay me to watch sports,” Mote said. “I really loved it, and I still do. I’m grateful to be able to do this and the bottom line is this is fun for me.”

A long day

Mote is in his first season of being part of the Southern Mississippi radio broadcasts. Recently, he was in the studio helping broadcast the Golden Eagles’ game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. The game wound up being a blowout — Alabama won 49-7 — but Mote informed listeners with scores from around the country, provided highlights of the game at halftime, and did a post-game wrap-up of the Crimson Tide’s win.

Mote is no stranger to the job, having worked for several schools over the last 15 years or so. He loves the fast-paced excitement each Saturday brings, and he’s constantly staying on top of what is going on with the Southern Miss program.

For the noon game last weekend, he arrived at the IMG office at 9:30 a.m. to work on some taped pre-game analysis. He didn’t get home until around 7 p.m.

He uses public transportation to get to his part-time job at IMG and his full-time job at IBF Solutions. It’s there where he became as passionate about finding jobs for the blind as he is about his work in radio all these years.

“IBF is my full-time employment and I’ve been with them for nearly seven years,” Mote said. “It’s the largest employer of blind people or visually-impaired people in the country. We have three locations throughout the country, and here in Winston-Salem, we have about 500 employees and my role is manager of workforce services, and we are a staffing agency to find folks jobs.”

Mote said it’s important to find those jobs for the blind.

“About 70% of the blind population is without a job, and we’re trying to change that,” Mote said.

‘Radio, for him, is his eyes’

It would seem being blind would be a disadvantage for Mote, but Cabell Philpott, the audio network manager of Learfield/IMG College, says it’s the opposite.

“The whole thing with Mike is fascinating with what he can do,” Philpott said. “Not only is he great at on-air, he’s got a great personality and really fits in well.”

Philpott, who has been with Learfield/IMG College for 14 years, says the radio background is a big factor in why Mote is so good at what he does.

“Because Mike’s blind, he can’t run a board, but we’ve actually tried,” Philpott said. “We were almost there where he could do it, but just didn’t feel comfortable. He would have to move sound around on the computer screen and it just wasn’t working with the program that he uses, but we might address it later.”

Mote works with a producer during the games he works. The Winston-Salem office for Learfield/IMG College is home to several shows from games being played around the country. On any given Saturday, close to 40 games are produced for radio.

Philpott said it can be a little hectic, but the dedicated individuals such as Mote make it all work.

“Radio, for him, is his eyes,” Philpott said. “I’m sure folks that listen to him on a regular basis have no idea that he’s blind.”

N.C. insurance commissioner approves 3.5% local homeowners rate increase for 2020

Winston-Salem and Forsyth County homeowners will face a 3.5% increase in their insurance rate as part of a settlement approved Friday by state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey.

The rate, which goes into effect May 1, is significantly less than the 20% hike sought by the N.C. Rate Bureau in December.

The settlement cancels a public hearing set for Wednesday.

Commissioner Mike Causey also approved an overall 4.3% increase in mobile-home casualty insurance rates, also effective May 1. The bureau requested a statewide average of 19%.

The bureau has said its proposal “is needed to cover increased losses, hurricane losses and the net cost of reinsurance.”

For mobile home fire insurance rate, Causey approved a 6.6% increase compared with the bureau’s 19.9% increase request.

The bureau is an independent group representing insurers writing policies in North Carolina. It typically asks for rate increases — some substantially higher in areas prone to damage from natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods and winter storms.

Causey said the difference in the bureau’s requested homeowners insurance rate hike and the 4% statewide average increase he approved is about $285 million in premium payments statewide.

“I am glad the Department of Insurance has avoided a lengthy administrative legal battle which could have cost consumers time and money,” Causey said.

The bureau’s recent average statewide rate requests have ranged from 17.4 percent for 2019 to 25.6 percent for 2015.

The insurance commissioner, however, seldom agrees to the bureau’s full request, but instead typically approves a lower increase, or sometimes a decrease, for each of the state’s 29 territories as measured by risk.

For the 2018-19 homeowners rates, Causey approved an average increase of 4.8%; the rate bureau had asked for an 18.9% increase.

In February, Causey responded to the bureau’s 2019-20 homeowners insurance rate increase request by saying “there is a pervasive lack of documentation, explanation and justification of both the data used, as well as the procedures and methodologies utilized in the filing.”

“The proposed rates appear to be excessive and unfairly discriminatory.”

For Winston-Salem and Greensboro homeowners, the rate increase is 3.5.%

The increase is also 3.5% for the area that includes Alamance, Davie, Forsyth, Guilford, Rockingham, Stokes, Surry and Wilkes counties,

For the areas in Alleghany, Ashe, Davidson, Randolph, Watauga and Yadkin counties, the increase is 1.5%.