Despite sometimes heavy showers, the area remains under water restrictions and a burn ban

WILMINGTON -- Rains on Sunday were a relief to much of Southeastern North Carolina, but weren't enough to lift water restrictions and burning bans.

The National Weather Service recorded 0.42 inches of rain Sunday at the Wilmington International Airport. An afternoon thunderstorm brought occasional heavy bursts of rain, lightning, wind gusts and even reports of hail around Leland and Calabash. It also knocked out power to hundreds of customers, especially in southern New Hanover County.

Heavy winds blew trashcans into the street in Carolina Beach, and Police Chief Chris Spivey said town operations crews have been clearing blown-down canopies and tents. Problems also were reported at Freeman Park.

A Stage 1 Water Conservation Advisory remains in effect, however, for most of New Hanover County, according to the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA).

"It's great that we had some rain, but we'll have to see something more sustained," said CFPUA spokesman Vaughn Hagerty.

Rainfall was 2.7 inches below normal in Wilmington for May. Even with yesterday's precipitation, Wilmington remains 7.5 inches below the normal rainfall amount for the year. Last year, through the first two days of June, the region was 13 inches ahead of normal levels.

Sunday's rains seemed to have largely bypassed Pender County, according to emergency management director Tom Collins -- although lightning strikes caused some problems.

"We need the rain," Collins said.

The weather service is forecasting an increased chance of showers as the week goes on, although rainfall amounts look small, with temperatures expected to top out in the high 80s.

A burning ban for 18 eastern North Carolina counties -- including New Hanover, Brunswick, Onslow and Pender -- was imposed by the state on Thursday and remains in effect, according to the N.C. Forest Service. Operations officer Chris Meggs with the Forest Service's District 8 office in Whiteville.

The ban prohibits all outdoor burning in the region, and all burning permits have been canceled. Violating the burn ban could mean a $100 fine plus $180 court costs, and violators could be required to reimburse any expenses related to putting out a fire.

Most of coastal North Carolina from Pamlico Sound to the South Carolina state line was declared under "moderate" drought conditions last week.  The N.C. Drought Management Advisory Council is scheduled to confer Tuesday, and the U.S. Drought Monitor is expected to release a new drought map on Thursday.

Reporter Ben Steelman can be reached at 910-343-2208 or