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Drought worsening — it’s now extreme — but rain may be near

Hall County’s drought keeps getting worse, but there’s a chance wet weather may bring relief over the next week.

The Hall County area is now in extreme drought, upgraded from severe, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly update on Thursday, Oct. 10.

Extreme drought can mean rivers and livestock ponds are dry and wells are drying up, and, as many residents have probably noticed, fall leaves dropping from trees earlier than normal.

It also “means that we have to be especially careful when we do and do not allow burn permits, while encouraging citizens to only burn when absolutely necessary and follow all applicable safety precautions,” said Zachary Brackett, Hall County Fire Services spokesman.

“In an extreme drought like we have currently, a small fire can rapidly intensify and be outside of the ability for a garden hose or small hose stream to extinguish.”

Burn permits are still allowed but under certain conditions, including humidity and wind speeds, Brackett said.

“The decision for burn permits is made in the morning each day and takes into consideration the forecast for the day,” he said.

The National Weather Service forecast on Thursday showed an increasing chance of showers  thunderstorms through Wednesday, Oct. 16. 

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

Late summer and early fall temperatures were steamy. Cooler air has moved into the area in recent days, with high temperatures expected to hover in the mid-70s through Wednesday.

Effects of the drought also can be seen in Lake Lanier water levels, and Linda MacGregor, director of Gainesville Water Resources, has said they are “dropping like a rock.”

“Basically, I think it’s as simple as if we have a wet winter, we’ll be good,” she told Gainesville City Council in September. “And if we have a dry winter, we’re going to go into 2020 with low lake levels.”

Lanier was at 1,067.22 feet above sea level Thursday afternoon, or nearly 4 feet below the full pool level of 1,071 feet. Lanier reached a 2019 high of 1,076.1 feet on Feb. 24.