Drought lingers in lower Southeast region

Rain and snow _ up to 5 inches of snowfall in some areas — fell across Alabama and Georgia in early March, but it did little to improve the region's long-term drought status, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor's March 12 report.

Drought impacts are still being felt in the area, states the report, and well levels have remained at extremely low conditions. Stream flows, which surged following the storm, continue to subside, and many locations are already back to well below-normal stream-flow conditions. In addition, the level of Lake Lanier in Georgia has stabilized following a small pulse from the surface runoff.

“Continued drier-than-average conditions in Florida resulted in the expansion of severe drought conditions in west-central Florida to the east coast and in southern Florida,” states the report. Continued drying also occurred through south and southeast Florida with increases in the extent of severe drought in those areas as well. Also, wildfires are being reported in the area.

In southern Florida, Lake Okeechobee continued to fall.

For the week ending March 8, 68 percent of Florida's subsoil moisture was rated short to very short, 34 percent adequate, and 1 percent surplus.

While drought conditions persist in areas of Georgia and throughout the Southeast, the director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), Carol A. Couch, has not issued a severe drought declaration this year in southwest Georgia's lower Flint River Basin, in accordance with the Flint River Drought Protection Act.

By March 1 of each year, the EPD Director, in consultation with the state climatologist and the state geologist, determines if a severe drought declaration should be issued for the lower Flint River Basin as required by the Flint River Drought Protection Act. The Act established a fund to compensate farmers in the Flint River Basin who voluntarily stop irrigating their crops when a severe drought is declared. The purpose of the Act is to protect stream flow in the lower Flint River and its tributaries during a severe drought.

According to State Climatologist David Stooksbury, mild drought conditions exist across southwest Georgia, including much of the lower Flint River Basin. While the past two months have been dry, Stooksbury says total rain since Oct.1 has been near normal in southwest Georgia.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, conditions in lower Flint River Basin areas most likely affected by the potential declaration are now labeled as abnormally dry.

This is the seventh year in a row that a severe drought declaration has not been deemed necessary in the lower Flint River Basin.

Due to an abnormally dry January and February, drought conditions have returned to much of Georgia, says Stooksbury, and it could get worse.

“By the end of last year, the state, with the exception of the northeast quarter, wasn't in drought. This has changed,” he says. “Northeast Georgia remains in severe to extreme drought conditions. Northwest Georgia is classified as being abnormally dry. The southwest and extreme southeast parts of the state are in mild drought.”

More specifically, extreme drought conditions are currently found in Hart, Elbert, Madison, Oglethorpe, Clarke, Jackson, Banks and Stephens counties, he adds.

Severe drought conditions are found in Lincoln, Wilkes, Oconee, Barrow, Hall, Lumpkin, White, Habersham, Fannin, Union, Towns and Rabun counties. Mild drought conditions are found in Camden and Charlton counties as well as south and west of Chattahoochee, Marion, Schley, Sumter, Lee, Worth, Colquitt, Cook and Lowndes counties, inclusive. Meanwhile, abnormally dry conditions are found in the northwest Georgia counties of Dade, Walker, Catoosa, Whitfield, Chattooga, Gordon, Floyd and Bartow.

The remaining 102 Georgia counties are in moderate drought.

“The cool season — October through April — is critical for the state. That's when it typically receives moisture recharge to the soils, groundwater, rivers and reservoirs. Without significant rain in the next two months, Georgia is primed for another year of drought,” says Stooksbury.

Over the past 30 days, almost the entire state has received less than half of normal rain, he said in early March. Much of the northern Coastal Plain has received less than a quarter of normal rain.

Over the past 60 days, less than half of normal rain has been reported south of a line from Heard to Henry to Morgan to Clarke to Elbert counties, inclusive. Much of the northern Coastal Plain has received less than a quarter of normal rain over the same period.

While January and February were extremely dry, total rain since Oct. 1, the beginning of the recharge period, has been near normal across southwest and northwest Georgia and the lower Savannah River basin, according to Stooksbury.

Stream flows across the Piedmont and northern Coastal Plain were at or near record-low flows for late February. Across the southern Coastal Plain, stream flows are near normal to abnormally low, but are not at record low flows.

The major reservoirs of Lanier, Hartwell, Russell and Clarks Hill remained at near-record lows with diminishing hope for recharge unless there is a major weather pattern shift over the next few months.

“Groundwater levels are generally near normal across southwest and northwest Georgia,” says Stooksbury. “The levels are abnormally low across much of the northern Coastal Plain and the Piedmont. Groundwater levels can and do vary over very short distances especially when measurements are taken from different aquifers.”

TAGS: Management
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