Drought conditions continue to ease

Heavy rainfall during the latter part of March and the first part of April helped ease drought conditions in most of the lower Southeastern states, including Alabama, which has been declared drought-free for the first time in three years.

The U.S. Drought Monitor's report released on April 9 marks the first time since March of 2006 that Alabama has been 100-percent free of abnormally dry conditions.

Alabama State Climatologist John Christy says it appears Alabama has emerged from one of the worst droughts of the last 1,000 years. The drought that has plagued north and central Alabama since 2007 ranks up there with the drought of 1839 that dried up the Black Warrior River.

“The climate in Alabama is never static. We can expect to see droughts every few years. Fortunately, this year doesn't look like it's going to be one of them,” Christy says.

While water usage restrictions that were in place in many areas might not be necessary, crops could still be in danger, he says. “If it doesn't rain for two weeks during the summer, farmers could be in trouble,” Christy says.

He says it would be wise for the state to take advantage of this year's plentiful rain to store up water for the future. Water storage ponds should be prepared to collect the water, even though the ponds can be expensive to create, says Christy.

“We have the water resources to take care of us. It's just a matter of the cost and will to do it,” he says.

All of Georgia except the Lanier and Hartwell basins is now out of drought, said David Stooksbury, state climatologist, in early April. “Several days of heavy rain across the southern two-thirds of the state have alleviated the remaining drought conditions in south Georgia,” he says.

The Lake Lanier and Lake Hartwell basins remain in moderate drought, he adds. Lake Lanier is a major source of water for much of metropolitan Atlanta. On the Savannah River, Lakes Russell and Clarks Hill remained abnormally low for early April.

Soil moisture statewide was nearly normal for early April, says Stooksbury.

“Stream flows across the southern two-thirds of Georgia are well above normal. Daily record-high flows are being set on many rivers and creeks in southwest and south central Georgia,” he says.

While the heavy rains have lifted most of Georgia out of a drought, excessive precipitation also has caused problems for many south Georgia farmers due to flooding. Watermelon, cantaloupe and tobacco crops especially have been affected.

The Southeast Climate Consortium (SECC) — a coalition of six universities — is forecasting that normal weather patterns should set in through spring and summer.

“With La Niña no longer influencing the weather patterns of the Southeast, we can anticipate normal spring and early summer climate patterns,” according to the SECC. “Normal does not necessarily imply that seasonal temperature and/or precipitation will be near the long-term average, rather that there is no inclination towards wetter, drier, warmer, or colder due to events in the Pacific Ocean. Near normal rainfall and temperature is the most likely, but we can also anticipate the normal variability of weather and climate to be a factor in the next several months.”

The recent heavy rains across north Florida, south Alabama and south Georgia have saturated soils and filled area lakes, ponds and rivers, says the Consortium. This should provide sufficient moisture for planting field crops and greening of pastures for the next month or more. Standing water or saturated soils could hinder field preparations.

“April and early May is the spring dry season in Florida, so the peninsula should continue to dry as temperatures and evapo-transpiration increases.

Elsewhere in north Alabama, north Georgia, and the Carolinas, spring potentially brings the last chance of meaningful recharge for surface and groundwater. Evapo-transpiration exceeds normal rainfall during the summer months, so winter and spring recharge is important for water resources.

“During the summer, the Southeast is characterized by hot, humid conditions and convective thundershowers. Coverage and frequency of these afternoon thunderstorms is higher in Florida and extreme south Georgia, but more “hit and miss” in the remainder of Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas. While normal summer rainfall is not enough to make up for the long-term deficits, these rains may mitigate drought effects in selected areas.”

Over Florida, says the SECC, the onset of the summer rainy season is usually anywhere from mid-May to early June. “The summer rains effectively end the wildfire season in the state, but potential for large fires will continue until rains begin in earnest. The wildfire season rarely lasts past mid-June. Unlike Georgia and Alabama, summer is the season for recharge in Lake Okeechobee.”

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