Climate figures show more than three-quarters of the state is suffering from drought conditions, and several western counties are rated as extremely dry.

The U-S Drought Monitor says the seven westernmost counties -- Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain -- face the worst conditions. It also says all counties west of Interstate 26 face severe drought conditions.

State climatologist Ryan Boyles says North Carolina is facing its worst conditions since 2002. Those conditions could worsen with the approach of summer.

Asheville is more than eight inches below average. The Triad is nearly four inches below normal and the Triangle region is more than four inches below normal.

Local governments across the state are urging residents to conserve water. Governor Easley has directed state agencies in 12 counties in western North Carolina to stop nonessential water use.