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Experts gauge recent rains benefits

Storms cause minor problems, do little to help drought

POSTED: February 19, 2009 11:50 p.m.

If Shakespeare had been around to witness Wednesday night’s thunderstorms, he would have described it like this: “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Several counties in Middle and South Georgia were hit Wednesday evening by possible tornadoes, and much of the state experienced damaging winds and large hail. But the violent weather did nothing to ease Georgia’s drought.

“They were very fast-moving storms, moving at about 50 miles per hour, so they didn’t have time to drop much rain,” said Robert Beasley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.

“Most places had less than half an inch, and a lot of places didn’t get anything at all. It was hit or miss, which is the nature of severe thunderstorms.”

The gauge at Gainesville’s Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport recorded 1.05 inches of rain Wednesday. But other cities in the Lake Lanier basin received much less. Helen got .68 inches, Cleveland .62, and just .31 inches fell at Buford Dam.

Thursday night, Lake Lanier stood at 1,056.88 feet above sea level, about the same as the previous day’s reading. There may be a slight rise in the lake level over the next couple of days, as the rain that fell in the basin Wednesday slowly drains down into the reservoir.

So far this month, Gainesville has received about 1.79 inches of rain. Beasley said he doesn’t expect much more than that for the rest of February.

“The next rain system will arrive in the middle or latter part of next week, but it doesn’t look like a big rainmaker,” he said.

There is a 40 percent chance of rain Saturday night, with possible snow flurries in the mountain counties, but Beasley said that system isn’t carrying much precipitation.

“Whatever we get on Saturday will be minuscule,” he said.

Beasley said he’s not concerned about the relatively dry February. The critical period will be this spring, when the Lanier watershed needs to get enough rain to push the lake up to a healthier level before summer.

Despite a five-foot gain since December, Lanier is still more than 14 feet below normal full pool.

“March and April is when we would expect to see frequent, major storm systems,” said Beasley. “That’s what it will take to help fill the lake up.”

One person was killed and at least 16 were injured when tornadoes, hail and lightning hit Middle and South Georgia, downing trees and power lines, authorities said Thursday.

At least three tornadoes touched down in central Georgia, according to the National Weather Service.

“It looks like a B-52 bomber went over,” Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said. “The buildings are completely disintegrated.”

One man was killed in Sparta when the storm destroyed his home.

Kent McMullen, a meteorologist with the weather service in Peachtree City, said one confirmed tornado cut a 7-mile swath through rural Jasper County with winds of up to 100 mph. At least 10 people were injured and as many as 100 structures were damaged in Jasper County, emergency managers said.

Two other twisters touched down in Taylor County and at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, south of Macon, McMullen said.

The storms also damaged at least two schools in Fayette County south of Atlanta.

Across Georgia, roughly 13,400 homes and businesses lost power during the height of the storm. Much of it was restored by Thursday morning.

The Associated Press contributed to this report



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