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Northeast Georgia has 'abnormally dry' winter so far
Except for frigid cold, La Nia has unfolded as expected, expert says
A pedestrian walks quickly along E. E. Butler Parkway during a cold rain Tuesday afternoon. - photo by Tom Reed

It snowed Christmas Day. Last week, snow and ice made roads impassable. Rain and, yes, snow, is in the forecast this week.

Whatever happened to La Niña, the atmospheric pattern that was supposed to usher in warmer, drier weather this winter?

"We are actually having a drier winter, which is fascinating to people who have thought (otherwise)," state climatologist David Stooksbury said Tuesday.

He said the University of Georgia rain gauge in Gainesville has measured 3.29 inches since Dec. 1, compared to the normal amount of 7.86 inches.

However, Gainesville's gauge doesn't heat up snow and then measure what has been melted into water.

"What happens is the snow piles up and eventually melts, but we can have some loss (of snow) during that time period," Stooksbury said. "You can have problems with snow being blown out of the bucket."

Still, Atlanta and Athens gauges, which have devices that heat up snow, are showing rainfall deficits of 3 and 2 inches below normal, respectively. Gainesville, even with its gauge situation, is probably about 2-3 inches below normal, Stooksbury said.

Also, he noted, 6 inches of snow — or about the amount that fell in the Hall County area last week — is equal to about a half-inch of rain.

"At this time of year, we're looking at roughly about 0.15 inches of rain being the normal amount per day," Stooksbury said. "I think that's another thing; people don't realize how wet winter really is around here. In three days, we expect almost a half-inch of rain."

As of Jan. 11, the U.S. Drought Monitor had placed Hall County in an "abnormally dry" category, with portions of the state experiencing moderate to extreme drought. Only two counties in Georgia have no drought-like conditions.

The next update will be released Thursday, based on data compiled as of 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Stooksbury said the temperature forecast in La Niña has not panned out as expected.

"It has been extremely cold ... in fact, this is the coldest La Niña we've ever had, by far," he said. "... There have never been major agriculture freezes in Florida during a La Niña winter, until this year."

Derailing the weather predictions is an atmospheric pattern known as "Arctic oscillation," which rarely affects the Southeast.

The pattern usually lasts about two months and falls into two categories: positive and negative. Worse weather, such as frigid temperatures, accompany the negative pattern.

"In early November, we went into an extremely negative pattern and it is only in the past week that we have become slightly positive," Stooksbury said. "So, right now, I'm actually expecting February and March to start acting like we would expect a La Niña winter and early spring to behave.

"Finally, it looks like that warmer-than-normal pattern might emerge, with the Arctic oscillation becoming much more normal."

As a scientist, the weather happenings have been "fascinating, because it was something unexpected," Stooksbury added. "As a forecaster, it's been extremely frustrating."


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