The Climate, Geography, and Sustainability of Alamance County 

Imagine early European explorers making their way across the undeveloped plains, shady forests, and rolling hills of central North Carolina's Piedmont region. Envision migrating through different Native American tribes and discovering a place full of opportunities and possibilities. Now think of the Alamance County of today, an area containing fifteen smaller towns and communities with an overall estimated population of 153,291. The 423.94 square miles of Alamance County not only hold many businesses and corporations, but also contain several natural parks, trails, and rivers for recreation.

North Carolina is located in a warm temperate zone, but because of the different elevations throughout the state, some regions experience very different weather than others. Alamance County is located in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Piedmont is considered a plateau because it is high and mostly flat. There are some hills present though, and they range from 300 feet high in the east to 1,500 feet near the mountains. The state average for rainfall is forty-four inches, which is high compared to national average of thirty-seven inches. July is the wettest month of the year in this region and November is generally the driest, but there is no apparent wet and dry season. The average amount of snow that North Carolina receives is five inches a year, which is extremely low, compared to the national average of twenty-five inches a year. In winter, the precipitation that occurs is usually a cold rain. While snow does not pose such a threat to Alamance County, freezing rain is considered much more dangerous. Temperature-wise, the high in July is typically around ninety degrees while the low in January is twenty degrees.

Hurricanes are a major factor in North Carolina's overall weather, but Alamance County and the Piedmont region in general do not get hit very hard. The Coastal Plain encounters much more devastating effects in terms of tropical storms. Tornados are also a component of the climate, and they affect the entire state, though their impact is not immensely drastic considering they are few and far between. Overall, natural disasters do not pose much of a threat to everyday life in Alamance County.

A topic on which North Carolina and the southeastern United States as a whole are unique is that their average temperatures from 1901 to 2000 have stayed the same. While scientists agree that the earth is in a period of warming, the southeastern North American area tends to not follow this trend. The 113-year period over which the temperature data has been analyzed shows no long-term inclination toward warming or cooling. While there is plenty of variability in temperatures, there is no pattern, and by just observing the data one would think that greenhouse gases and global warming are not affecting the state. But 100 years is not a sufficient amount of time to make a general climatic statement. The lack of a trend may be due to some areas growing warmer while others cool, causing the average to remain the same. Some scientists speculate that climate change could be a reason as to why there is little difference in the amount of precipitation from season to season.

Elon's Biobus - carolineajamesWhile weather patterns in North Carolina have high variability, there are no significant trends occurring at the moment. This does not mean that the state will never be affected and actions should not be taken to promote environmental awareness. Some efforts are already being made to promote sustainability in this region, and one force leading the idea is Elon University. One concept that the University is preforming to promote sustainable living is a form of public transportation called the Biobus. Students can hop on the bus at one of the stops located around campus and get a ride to other areas around campus or to University Commons and Alamance Crossing for shopping. The bus also runs into Downtown/East Burlington for other shopping or dining options and volunteering opportunities. The community is also encouraged to use the bus. The fuel that these buses run on is healthier for the environment due to it containing twenty-percent bio-fuel. Biofuels are better because they are plant based, and the fuel is renewable because crops can be grown and harvested over and over again.

Garden at Elon University - carolineajamesOther sustainable features of the campus include the Zipcar car-sharing system, the composting of food waste, tray-less dining, and the promotion of reusable water bottles. The university removed bottled water from the meal plan and instead installed filtered water stations and hydration stations to refill water bottles. Doing this decreases plastic water bottle consumption by over 100,000 bottles annually. Storm water is collected by the lakes on campus and then is used for irrigation. Another step in the environmental direction is the fact that the Colonnades residence halls are primarily heated and cooled with a geothermal system. This is done by heat pumps that use the earth’s fairly stable temperature to transfer heat from the ground in the winter and do the opposite in the summer. In 2005, the campus was designated a Botanical Garden and is now being used as an educational tool for the students and community alike.              

Sustainability is not just being promoted on Elon’s campus; efforts are also being made in other parts of Alamance County. An example of this is Company Shops Market, located in Burlington. It is a co-op owned by the community it serves. They describe their sustainable mission as the balance of community, economy, and environment. They say sustainable actions should promote good relationships between members of a community. The actions should stimulate the local economy and allow the community to have a strong local core. Finally, a long-term environmental perspective should be taken into account and future generations should be considered.

Alamance County is a pleasant place to live, and future generations should get to enjoy it in an even better condition than it is now. Just like the early European settlers saw the area as a place of opportunity, the generations living today should see Alamance County in that light as well. With more focus being put on sustainable living and local businesses, the resources of the communities can be better preserved, and in turn the communities will be healthier ones to live in. 


Books used: North Caroline Weather & Climate – Peter J. Robinson

 Exploring North Carolina’s Natural Areas- edited by Dirk Frankenberg

A Geography of the Carolinas- edited by D. Gordon Bennett and Jeffery C. Patton

Websites Used: