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Latest drought report still bad for North Georgia, Southeast

POSTED: July 21, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Recent rains in July have done little to ease the drought across the Southeast, with dry conditions persisting in Northeast Georgia and the region.

A U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday shows extreme or exceptional drought conditions spread across North Georgia, western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and into the central Carolinas.

Northeast Georgia’s drought is categorized as "extreme," just one level below the worst intensity reported.

Conditions improved slightly after rain across the region. But it hasn’t been enough to refill reservoirs that quickly drained during an early season heat wave.

A lack of rain in June renewed drought conditions that have spread across the Southeast for much of the past year.

The weather also has been slightly warmer this year. Since June 1, there have been 17 days in Gainesville where the temperature reached 90 degrees or higher. That compares with 11 days of 90 degree temperatures in the same period of 2007.

For the past six weeks, all of Northeast Georgia has continued in an extreme drought. The drought area, which extends from Northeast Georgia through portions of North and South Carolina, includes an area in upstate South Carolina, from Greenville northward to the state line, and an area of western North Carolina, near Hendersonville, that is in an exceptional drought.

The extreme drought includes an area north and east of a line crossing Lincoln, Wilkes, Taliaferro, Greene, Morgan, Walton, Gwinnett, Forsyth, Dawson, Gilmer and Fannin counties. The cities are Athens, Blairsville, Clayton, Cumming, Gainesville and Madison. Extreme drought conditions occur about once in 50 years.

And recent rains haven’t been enough to fill up Lake Lanier. The lake was at 1,055.84 feet above sea level Thursday, more than 15 feet below its full pool of 1,071 feet above sea level.

Patrick Robbins, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mobile district, which manages Lanier, said the lake always has suffered because its tiny catchment basin is inadequate for such a large body of water.

"It’s a 38,000-acre lake, so it takes a great deal of rain to fill it up. It would have to go on for days and days and days," he said. "And the rain has to fall in certain areas to be beneficial to the lake."

But it would be inaccurate to say recent rains haven’t helped at all, said James Hathorn Jr., hydraulic engineer for the corps in Mobile. He pointed out that at least the water level is holding steady instead of dropping further.

"The decline has stopped," he said. "There were two rain events that allowed us to ‘flatline,’ but we need to have continued events like this."



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