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Lake keeps dropping as Fay’s rain fades into past

POSTED: September 27, 2008 5:00 a.m.
FILE PHOTO /The Times

Lake Lanier already has dropped more than a foot from the high it reached in late August when storm systems swept through the area. Not much rain has fallen since then.

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It appears that Fay has faded.

One month ago, the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay plowed through Hall County, dumping more than 6 inches of rain on the area and spawning several tornadoes.

It also brought a huge bonus to Lake Lanier. On Aug. 24, the lake was at 1,053.31 feet above sea level, almost 18 feet below full pool. By Aug. 29, it reached 1,055.76, gaining almost 2.5 feet.

But since then, the lake has been steadily dropping. Hall County received some rain the second week of September, but most areas only got trace amounts, with total rainfall of less than an inch over the past four weeks.

Robert Beasley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, said you might as well get used to it.

"The pattern that we’re in now, we don’t foresee much rainfall the rest of September," he said. "Outside of tropical storm systems, September and October are the driest months of the year."

He said there is a tropical storm developing near Puerto Rico, "but we don’t expect any impact at all on us."

Beasley said the climatic conditions in Georgia aren’t conducive to rain right now.

"We’re not getting any more Gulf moisture," he said. "We’ve got cool dry air near the surface, but we’ve still got warm air aloft, and that’s the worst possible combination."

The current forecast doesn’t call for rain until Friday or Saturday, and even then, the chances are 20 to 30 percent.

"Any rain we get (next) weekend will not be significant," said Beasley.

Unless the weather pattern changes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is predicting that Lake Lanier will drop to 1,053.4 feet by Oct. 17. In other words, it will be almost exactly where it was before Tropical Storm Fay.

"Be thankful that we got Fay. Otherwise we’d be heading into record-low territory," said Kent Frantz, senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service.

But when three other storms followed Fay in quick succession, all of them bypassed Georgia.

"We missed out on Hanna, Gustav and Ike," said Frantz. "I was very disappointed that those storms went elsewhere."

Still, he said, Fay gave the state a boost just when it was needed.

"Fay was a drought-buster for South Georgia," he said. "In Northeast Georgia, it brought 6 to 12 inches of rain, which was good for the Lake Lanier basin. It also recharged a lot of the area ponds and small lakes."

What it didn’t do was recharge the groundwater.

"Stream flows are still way below normal because the water table is low," Frantz said. "It’s back where it was before Fay came through."

He anticipates a couple more months of dry weather before winter rains are expected to begin. But at least the temperatures will be cooler.

"The thing that is in our favor is that we are getting out of summer," he said. "As long as we don’t have an exceptionally warm fall, evaporation becomes less and the vegetation starts going dormant (reducing the demand for water)."

Still, we’re going to need a winter deluge rivaling Noah’s flood to refill the lake.

"The only way to get Lake Lanier back up to full pool is to have above-normal rainfall," Frantz said. "Normal rainfall is not going to do it."



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