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January rainfall below normal

Severity of drought declines, but no telling when it will end

POSTED: February 10, 2008 5:05 a.m.
Tom Reed/The Times

David Stooksbury, state climatologist and University of Georgia professor, answers questions about the drought and water outlook Tuesday morning at the Ag 2008 Forecast seminar at the Georgia Mountains Center.

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The state climatologist said Tuesday that despite rain and snowfall in January, the region continues to have a deficit in precipitation.

"So far this month, much of North Georgia is approaching two inches below normal," said David Stooksbury, who spoke to a regional agriculture meeting in Gainesville sponsored by the University of Georgia. "We’ve only received about half the normal rainfall this month."

However, Stooksbury displayed a graphic that showed the severity of the drought is declining because of the precipitation that has been received and cooler temperatures creating less evaporation.

The area north and west of the Chattahoochee River is in exceptional drought. Extreme drought conditions remain in the upper and middle Flint River basin, the upper and middle Oconee River basin and the upper and middle Savannah River basin. South-central and Southeast Georgia are classified as being abnormally dry to moderate drought.

Georgia’s fall line runs from Columbus east to Augusta. Streams north of this line are below or at record low flows for late January.

The Chattahoochee River is flowing at 44 percent of its normal rate at Cornelia and 34 percent of its normal rate at Helen. The Chestatee River, the other major river that supplies water to Lake Lanier, is flowing at 40 percent of its normal rate at Dahlonega. The Etowah River, which supplies water to Lake Alatoona, is flowing at 38 percent of its normal rate at Canton.

Soils dry rapidly north of the fall line, where soil moisture conditions are well below normal. Soils in the mountains are rated at the fifth percentile. This means that 95 years out of 100 years the soils would be more moist in late January.

The outlook isn’t promising. There is still a very good probability that drought conditions will intensify. A moderate to strong La Niña climate pattern indicates a high probability that Georgia will experience temperatures above normal and rainfall below normal through spring.

He said there is concern Georgia will not receive enough rain this winter and spring to cushion the state this summer. Without sufficient rain, the state may need strong conservation efforts in summer to protect the water supply, he said.

The climatologist showed data that indicated Hall and Forsyth counties have received 50 percent of their normal rainfall for the past six months. Over the past two years, the same region has received between 50 and 70 percent of normal rainfall.

Stooksbury said the period between October and April is the critical period for water."If we do not receive enough rainfall between October 1 and the mid part of April, we will not be able to recharge our soils and groundwater, stream flows and reservoirs without stringent conservation methods," he said.

Stooksbury said it is impossible to accurately predict when the drought will end.


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