Late February and early March brought more than average precipitation. After the snowstorm on February 8, several heavy rain events soaked north Georgia. The first week of March alone produced almost two inches in Gainesville. Times reader Jim Echols of Jaemor Farms was wondering about all that rain, pointing out that “normal rainfall in Hall Co. dumps 140,000 tanker loads a day.” I did some further math and found that an extra one-half inch of rain, spread evenly through our 429 square mile county, generates 466,000 tanker loads of 8,000 gallons each.
There’s no way to prove that the cause is climatic change until a new 30-year average becomes available. But the following scenario points in that direction.
Winter and spring rains in North Georgia are produced by fronts, where bodies of air meet with different temperature and moisture content. Ordinarily, a cold front from Canada will pass through our area and produce rain for a few hours, pushing the warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico away. After that, we see clear and cold weather. But this time, the front remained over our region for days at a time. That’s consistent with warmer water in the Gulf, making for a stronger air mass pushing from the south. With a weaker push from the Canadian air, the air mass battlefield was right here. Instead of sweeping through Georgia like a giant windshield wiper, the front stretched out from west to east. Airflow from the Gulf Coast kept streaming into our state, bringing a continuous supply of moisture. The continental polar air from the northwestern end of the continent had a hard time establishing itself here.
The plentiful rain of this year was beneficial for preparing the soil at Jaemor Farms and elsewhere for the growing season. It’s been quite a contrast to late winter weather we had in the past. Think of the January, 1985 deep freeze that plunged the mercury below zero in our area. At Mt. Mitchell, North Carolina, a low of -34 Fahrenheit set a new record back then. Hopefully, no hard freeze will interfere with agriculture now that spring is beginning 4 days from today.
Related mechanisms in the atmosphere can still bring severe drought back to North Georgia. But for now, food plants and forests are set for a good start of the growing season.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.