Drought lingers in lower Southeast

After several weeks of little or no rainfall, showers finally fell on parts of the lower Southeast during late November. Some areas, especially in Georgia, had been without rainfall for more than 30 days, and fall-planted crops such as wheat and rye were beginning to be affected.

In some areas of south Georgia, small grains were replanted. Also, cattlemen were feeding hay until winter grazing could rebound from the dry conditions. Some farmers had been concerned that they would exhaust their hay supplies because they were forced to begin supplemental feeding so early in the fall.

In the final Georgia Weather and Crops Report for 2001, 47 percent of the state's wheat crop was rated poor to very poor, 39 percent was rated fair and only 14 percent was rated good. None of the crop was rated as excellent. Georgia's soil moisture table had a 96-percent “short” to “very short” rating as of Nov. 23. This compares to a 21-percent “short” to “very short” rating at this same time in 2000.

The number of consecutive days with little or no rainfall reached record levels in some areas of Georgia before the late November showers. Columbus broke its record of days — 36 — with no rainfall, and other cities throughout the state were closing in on records prior to the rainfall, most of which fell during Thanksgiving weekend.

“We've been in a drought since May of 1998,” says Pam Knox, assistant state climatologist. “Rain fell this summer but no reserves were present in the soil. Fall is typically the driest time of the year, but this is one of the longest dry spells we've seen. It's very hard to break.”

Stream flows throughout Georgia continue to drop, says Knox. In north Georgia, record daily low flows were reported on the upper Chattahoochee, Chattooga, Chestatee, Broad, upper Flint and upper Oconee rivers.

In south Georgia, where most of the state's farming is concentrated, record daily low flows were reported on the Altamaha, lower Flint, Ohoopee, lower Oconee and Ocmulgee rivers.

On the positive side, however, dry weather throughout the fall did allow for good progress in the harvesting of most summer crops.

Plentiful rainfall throughout July brought temporary relief from the agricultural drought, says David Stooksbury, state climatologist. But very dry conditions in August, September, October and most of November once again raised concerns across Georgia.

Concerns are being raised about wildfires and low stream flows, reservoir levels, groundwater levels and soil moisture, he says.

“October normally is the driest month of the year, but rainfall amounts were meager even for this dry month. Warm weather during the fall also increased the loss of soil moisture due to evaporation and plant use,” says Stooksbury.

The low rainfall amounts also contributed to increased potential for wildfires statewide, he adds. “Water restrictions still are in effect across the state. Major reservoirs remain very low in north Georgia. In south Georgia, groundwater levels are extremely low. Most streams in the state are at or near record-low levels,” he says.

The winter outlook from the Climate Prediction Center doesn't offer much hope for improvement, says Stooksbury. “They predict equal chances of above-, near- and below-normal temperatures, but an increased chance of dry conditions throughout the winter. Since winter is the season when most soil moisture is recharged, this may foretell problems going into the next growing season,” he says.

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