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2007 not driest after all
Late rain raises water level
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ATLANTA — It turns out 2007 will not go down as the driest year on record for the drought-stricken Atlanta area, thanks to Sunday showers that capped four consecutive days of rain.

The most arid year ever recorded for Atlanta was 1954, when only 31.80 inches of rain fell.

Meteorologists had said it appeared that this year would have even less rain than that, saying rain falling Sunday morning would taper off and quit. However, showers continued long enough to raise the 2007 cumulative rainfall to 31.85 inches.

"It stays intact," said Mike Leary, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, of the 1954 record.

More than one-third of the Southeast is in an "exceptional" drought — the worst drought category. The Atlanta area, with a population of 5 million, is smack in the middle of the affected region, which includes most of Tennessee, Alabama, North and South Carolina, as well as parts of Kentucky and Virginia.

There had been hope that Atlanta would escape a record book entry this year, as a parade of rainstorms began the week before Christmas. Atlanta got rain on 10 out of the last 12 days.

On Saturday morning, the 2007 cumulative rainfall total hit about 30.5 inches, and an overnight soaking was on the way, fed by moisture from the Gulf of Mexico.

On Sunday morning, the weather service said it didn’t look like enough would fall during the day to match the 1954 level, seeming to guarantee a new record. But by 6:45 p.m. Sunday, more than 1.25 inches had accumulated for the day.

Rainfall is measured at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, just south of the city.

Rain has also been unusually sparse in other Georgia cities this year, including Athens, Columbia and Macon. However, each of those cities has seen worse years than 2007, Konarik said.

Athens got 0.92 of an inch by midafternoon Sunday, Columbus got 1.12 inches, Augusta got 2 inches and Macon more than 2.5 inches, Leary said.

The latest rain had only a small effect on the metropolitan area’s main source of drinking water, Lake Lanier, where the receding water is exposing roads and the foundations of buildings submerged since the reservoir was created in the 1950s.

The water level in the reservoir stood at an all-time low of 1,050.79 feet on Wednesday, and by 6 a.m. Sunday it had risen to only 1,051.05 feet.

"What’s falling now won’t show up until tomorrow or the next day," said Rob Holland, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the reservoir.

"Anything that stops the level from falling is a good thing," he added. "But we’d like to get a whole lot more."

The lack of rainfall across the region has set off intense fighting between Georgia, Florida and Alabama over the federal government’s management of water in the region.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has asked the federal government to release less water from its reservoirs, such as Lanier, but Alabama and Florida are concerned about how that would affect their supplies. Last month, Perdue held a public prayer vigil for rain on the steps of the Capitol.