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Steady weekend rains raised Lake Lanier's level by half a foot

POSTED: March 16, 2009 11:28 p.m.

The rain that fell on Northeast Georgia this past weekend hardly seemed like a drought-buster. Most of the time, it wasn’t much more than a drizzle.

But the cumulative effect was significant. Mike Leary, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, said about 1.85 inches of rain fell on the Gainesville area between Friday night and Monday afternoon.

"It was a stationary front, fed by moisture streaming in from the Gulf (of Mexico)," he said.

The slow, steady rain was perfect for recharging groundwater.

"It didn’t cause much runoff," Leary said.

The only drawback was that Lake Lanier could have used more rain within its watershed, which is relatively tiny compared to the size of the lake.

"More rain fell south of Lanier than north of it," said James Hathorn, hydraulic engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake.

Still, the gentle rain boosted Lanier by about half a foot. Monday afternoon, the lake stood at 1,058.7 feet above sea level.

That’s still more than 12 feet below full pool. But it’s a far cry from early December, when Lanier was 20 feet below full. The lake hasn’t been this high since October 2007.

Hathorn said Lanier’s gain has been partly due to the weather, and partly to management strategy.

"The Georgia Environmental Protection Division reduced the minimum flow requirement (in the Chattahoochee River at Peachtree Creek in Atlanta) from 750 (cubic feet per second) to 650," Hathorn said. "That helps, in addition to Mother Nature providing rainfall."

The weather outlook for the rest of the week is mostly dry, except for a 20 percent chance of showers on Thursday.

"But March is traditionally the wettest month in Georgia," said Hathorn. "You could also still see some potentially rainy weather in April and May. After that, it converts to a summer weather pattern (of occasional scattered thundershowers)."

Marina owners and other businesspeople on Lanier have been hoping the lake will at least reach 1,060 before the summer recreation season starts. Right now, it appears on track to achieve that mark.

But without regular, substantial rains, Lanier’s progress will be short-lived. Hathorn said once the summer heat sets in, the lake will begin losing water to evaporation.



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