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Hall County’s in a drought. That's affecting yards and these crops
Sprinklers fire at Cresswind at Lake Lanier on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. North Georgia is in a moderate drought, and while Lake Lanier remains more full than average for this time of year, the lack of rain means farmers are relying on irrigation to keep their crops healthy — and homeowners are keeping the sprinklers running until rain returns. - photo by Nick Bowman

Despite huge amounts of rain earlier this year, Hall County is now in a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

And conditions could get worse before they get better.

Weather officials are calling current conditions a “flash drought,” or a sudden, intense combination of hot, dry weather.

Temperatures have been steamy in September, and, according to the National Weather Service, the Gainesville area is reporting no rain at all for the month so far.

Pam Knox, director of the Georgia Weather Network at the University of Georgia, said some weather observing stations in the state “haven’t had rain for two or more weeks.”

“It is not that unusual to have dry conditions (this time of year), but it is unusual to go that many days without any rain at all,” she said.

State Climatologist Bill Murphey said Friday, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the next 8-10 days look very dry as well. And then, October is typically one of the driest months of the year.”

Hall County had been “abnormally dry” until this week, when most of the county was designated as “moderate drought” by the U.S. Drought Monitor. Only a small sliver of southeast Hall is still just abnormally dry.

2019 rainfall amounts

January: 5.17 inches, normal; 5.62 inches, actual

February: 5.10 inches, normal; 8.67 inches, actual

March: 5.23 inches; 3.65 inches, actual

April: 3.69 inches, normal; 4.82 inches, actual

May: 3.80 inches, normal; 3.34 inches, actual

June: 4.13 inches, normal; 5.52 inches, actual

July: 4.22 inches, normal; 1.81 inches, actual

August: 4.39 inches, normal; 2.5 inches, actual

September (through Sept. 19): 2.94 inches, normal; 0 inches, actual

Source: National Weather Service

Under moderate drought, potential impacts are low soil moisture and vulnerable crops, as well as gardens and lawns needing more water, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Also, streams and pond levels are lower.

Lake Lanier’s water level has dropped has almost 2 feet in a month. The lake’s Sept. 19 elevation was 1,068.44 feet above sea level, with 1,071 feet considered full pool.

Because of the weather conditions, “we’ve had to start picking pumpkins a little bit earlier than we’d like,” said Drew Echols of Jaemor Farms in Lula.

“And we’re steady pumping water every day,” he said. “We’re irrigating peach trees and pumpkins. Last week, we had to wet some dirt because we’re about to start planting strawberries. To get those beds to form right (in the ground), there has to be a little bit of moisture in the dirt.”

Karin Hicks, Master Gardener coordinator at Hall County’s extension office, said homeowners may be seeing impacts from the lack of rainfall in the trees, shrubs and perennials.

“Most are having to supplement water to keep their plants alive,” she said. “It goes back to picking the right plants for conditions and reevaluating landscapes. … Plants that rely on a lot of water … (are) probably not the best plant to have in the landscape.

“You look at native plants that can tolerate our (area’s) soil conditions and extreme temperatures.”

She added: “Eventually it will rain again, so that’s the good news.”

For now, though, “I see that (moderate drought) sticking around a while,” Murphey said.

The next level, severe drought, “is going to be on the table and not out of the question, coming down the road in a few weeks if we don’t get any kind of (rain) relief or tropical help.”

In severe drought, agricultural impacts worsen — such as hay production. And water levels start being affected more, with small streams drying up and rivers “very low,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“Like any drought, there are mixed impacts,” Knox said. “Sunny and dry weather is nice for tourism, and golf courses are doing great as long as they can irrigate their greens. Cotton farmers … need dry conditions to harvest the cotton.”

Current weather conditions aren’t so great for South Georgia peanut farmers. They need rain to help get peanuts out of the ground, she said.

Rain from tropical storms typically helps Georgia avert droughts.

“We’re fortunate in that we didn’t have any wind damage (from recent hurricanes) but unfortunate in that they didn’t bring any rain,” Knox said.

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