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La Niña is to blame for lack of rain

Storm system headed east this week

POSTED: October 25, 2007 10:24 a.m.

It seems like ages ago that soaking rains lingered over North Georgia.

As the drought drags on, threatening clouds sometimes roll in with a promise of rain, but seem to drop little more than a trace. So when will we finally get enough rain to make any difference?

"That's the million-dollar question that everybody keeps asking," said Robert Beasley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.

But the answer isn't one folks in the South want to hear.

The fading of summer spelled the end of the tropical season. This lessens the chance of any tropical systems bailing out the drought, Beasley said. It would take major changes in weather patterns to change the recent trend, he said, a change he doesn't expect to see.

To compound matters, experts are predicting a warmer and drier winter and spring in the region due to the influence of a La Niña that looks to be of record strength.

La Niña is defined as cooler than normal sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific ocean that impact global weather patterns, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Web site.

La Niña conditions recur every few years and can persist for as long as two years. It is the opposite of El Niño, in which sea-surface temperatures rise.

"The general tendency with a La Niña is for the Southern part of the U.S. to be drier than normal and its normal effects to last through winter and into the spring," Beasley said. "If that pattern holds true, then we would probably expect drier than normal conditions to continue into next April."

Though no one weather system will make up the nearly 20-inch rain deficit, there is hope on the horizon for rain early to midweek.

Beasley and fellow meteorologist Kent McMullen explained that forecasters are keeping an eye on a weather disturbance developing in the Rocky Mountains.

"This next system is so big and probably going to be so intense, that everybody from the Rocky Mountains east is going to feel some effect from it. We just don't know the timing," Beasley said.

Computer models are offering different predictions as to where the developing system might end up and when it might get there, forecasters said. McMullen said though there is a chance of rain today and Monday, it appears the best chance of rain seems to be overnight Tuesday. But, forecasters put little confidence in that prediction this far out, he said, due to the different predictions from the computer model. They just continue watching.

Whatever the timing, Beasley said that it is likely the storms could dump more rain on North Georgia than we've seen recently.

"There's the potential to get more rain next week than we've had all month," Beasley said.

The most recent rain recorded in Gainesville was 0.03 inches on Thursday, as recorded by the automatic monitoring station at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport. The sprinkling came from the same system which spawned tornadoes and strong storms in which at least six people died and several inches of rain were dumped on several states, including portions of south Georgia and north Florida.

Before last week's rain, Gainesville hadn't recorded any precipitation since Oct. 9 and, before that, Oct. 5.

Though, as McMullen said, "every drop helps," it's going to take a lot of drops to cancel the deficit.

"We're going to need several big systems to at least start making a dent in the top soil," McMullen said.



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