Gov. Ralph Northam is encouraging Virginians to keep an eye on their water usage and prepare for possible conservation measures.

On Friday, Northam declared a statewide drought watch advisory, which is aimed at increasing awareness of the lack of rain and how to prepare for a potential drought. If the advisory is upgraded to a drought warning, water contingency plans would go into effect and more localities could see voluntary or mandatory usage restrictions.

The latest drought report shows dry conditions expanding across the state, which is hampering agriculture, increasing the fire danger, and causing some water supplies to dwindle.

While mandatory water restrictions are not in place at this time, either at the state or local levels, the governor’s statement called for Virginians to monitor their usage, fix leaks, and take early steps to cut down on nonessential use.

As of Friday, at least three dozen Virginia localities had outdoor burn bans in effect. Powhatan County joined the growing list of counties in central Virginia that are restricting open burning, which also includes Chesterfield, Hanover, Henrico, Louisa and Goochland. For the latest status, visit the Virginia Department of Forestry’s online map or contact county offices.

State agencies are bracing for an active fall wildfire season, which typically peaks in November but is getting off to a fast start. The fall fire season in Virginia conventionally runs from Oct. 15 to Nov. 30.

The Virginia Department of Forestry reported that it suppressed 56 fires in September — what would be expected for a typical October — and an additional 35 in the first 10 days of this month. The burned area since Sept. 1 was 430 acres.

Rather than drought and fire threats being confined to particular regions, the statewide nature of the dry conditions could stretch and challenge firefighting agencies.

The department’s report noted that drought and fuel conditions are “notably worse” at this time in comparison with the active fall fire seasons of 1999 and 2001.

If these conditions prevail, fires will be harder to contain and require more resources to fight, according to the Department of Forestry.

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John Boyer is the first staff meteorologist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He joined the RTD newsroom in November 2016. Boyer earned his degree in meteorology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

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