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Drought worsens in Georgia, Hall County
Area now has 7-inch rainfall deficit for the year
Steve Brinson, of Rey-Brin Farm in East Hall, rolls out a bale of hay to feed his cattle Thursday afternoon. Cattlemen have been forced to tap into their hay supply earlier than normal because of very dry conditions this year.

Dry weather conditions have gotten worse in Hall County, which is now in moderate to severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor's report released Thursday.

The change in designation took place over the span of just one week. Last week, Hall and a large swath of Northeast Georgia had been considered "abnormally dry."

Now, all of Georgia is in moderate to extreme drought, with the driest conditions persisting in Middle and South Georgia. A small part of East Hall is in severe drought.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb., measures conditions each week, with data received by Tuesdays and reports issued each Thursday.

Hall County has a 7-inch rainfall deficit this year, according to data from the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.

The area should have received 35.8 inches through August and it has received 28.74 inches, said meteorologist Alex Gibbs, who added that the average rainfall for the year is 53.24 inches.

Lake Lanier, meanwhile, stood at 1,064.62 feet above sea level Thursday morning, or more than 6 feet below the normal full pool of 1,071 feet.

If the lake hits 1,063 feet, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will revert to its "low water action plan" and stop issuing dock permits, Chief Ranger Ernest Noe has said.

The corps has been working since January 2010 reviewing applications and issuing permits — a process it rebooted after the 2007-2009 drought, which drained the lake to a historic low of 1,050.79 feet on Dec. 26, 2007, and left many docks on dry ground.

The last time the lake was lower was Sept. 18, 2009.

Corps officials and others have said they believe a tropical storm is needed to help begin pulling Georgia out of drought.

The U.S. is in the middle of the hurricane season - as seen by the enormous damage wrought by Irene last week — and reaching what is considered to be the peak of activity.

The Atlantic basin is expected to see an above-normal hurricane season, which began June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

Michael Wheeler, coordinator of the Hall County Cooperative Extension Office, said the largest impact from the drought on area agriculture is hay harvesting.

"There may be no fall cutting, if it's too dry," he said.

"And that would affect cattle (ranches) mostly. They would have to buy hay, which cuts into their profit."

Steve Brinson, president of Hall County Cattlemen's Association, said he normally starts feeding hay to his cattle in November or December. But, because of dry grasses, he has been feeding hay for two weeks.

"You know it's bad when the weeds are starting to die, too," said Brinson, whose family runs the 97-acre Rey-Brin Farm between Gainesville and Lula.

"It's going to take a tropical storm or hurricane going in the Gulf (of Mexico), and, it's bad to say, but preferably it's going to have to come up through Alabama for us to ever get some relief," Brinson said.

The next chance of rain in the Hall County area is Sunday, in the form of showers and thunderstorms.

A 40 percent chance for storms is set for Labor Day, according to the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.