Northeast Georgia will need some healthy rainfall within the next few weeks, state climatologist David Stooksbury said.
Otherwise, conditions in the area will tip from being classified as “abnormally dry” to drought.
“Under normal conditions, soil moisture and groundwater improves during the winter,” Stooksbury said. “And I expect that will happen this year, but not to the extent they normally do.”
This year, the state is likely to experience a warm and dry winter and early spring. Stooksbury said the dry conditions could put most of Georgia into varying degrees of drought. The areas faring the worst are the southern coast and west central Georgia.
“Columbus only received 60 percent normal rainfall in the last six months,” Stooksbury said. “And in the last three months, Atlanta has had only 75 percent normal rainfall.”
Northeast Georgia is in better shape because the region received normal rainfall late into the summer, he added.
Though a drought is a possibility this season, Stooksbury explained that the condition progresses more slowly in the winter due to less moisture lost to evaporation and plant use. However, the impact of the dry winter will be more evident in the summer, he said. The recharge of soil moisture, groundwater, streams and reservoirs like Lake Lanier will probably be less than normal.
“Naturally fed farm ponds will have a difficult time maintaining their water levels next summer,” Stooksbury said.
Lake Lanier has been a few feet below full pool during the fall, with a level of 1,067.90 feet Thursday evening. Full pool is 1,070 feet during the winter.
Stooksbury said while the warm temperatures are bad news for water resources, there is some good. Heating demands this winter should be much less than last winter.
Last year, the state saw frequent rain and cold temperatures. Stooksbury attributes the difference to a strong La Niña climate pattern this year, which has the opposite effect of last year’s El Niño. La Niña generally brings warm and dry weather, while El Niño brings cool and wet weather.
Stooksbury said the winter and spring weather outlook is based on the most likely outcome. There is still a chance the winter could average colder than normal or wetter than normal. However, these are relatively low probabilities.