Published on 03/15/01

Cooler, Drier Winter Giving Way to Dry Spring

Spring Outlook
(April - June 2001)

Graphic: U.S. Climate Prediction Center

The winter months of December, January and February were cooler than normal in most of Georgia, while drier-than-normal conditions continued to aggravate moisture deficits statewide.

Preliminary results gathered from the National Weather Service's cooperative weather observers indicate winter temperatures ranged from more than 3 degrees below normal south of Macon to slightly above normal in southeastern Georgia away from the coast. Northwestern Georgia also had temperatures only slightly below normal for winter.

Rainfall Low

Precipitation ranged from near 100 percent of normal in northwestern Georgia to less than 50 percent of normal in south Georgia. Atlanta had 9.0 inches of rainfall, or 65 percent of normal.

Other amounts and percentages include Americus with 8.5 inches (60 percent), Athens 9.2 (70), Augusta 7.6 (65), Columbus 7.4 (51), Macon 6.8 (50), Rome 11.1 (78), Savannah 5.2 (37), Tifton 6.1 inches (45) and Waycross 4.6 (33).

Winter Should Be Wet

Winter is normally the season when groundwater stores and stream flows are recharging. The present long-term drought, which began in May 1998, has reduced groundwater levels and stream flows to near-record low levels. This has prompted continuing concern about conditions for the coming growing season.

The outlook for spring from the Climate Prediction Center indicates that typical climatic temperatures can be expected for March through May. This means an equal likelihood of below-normal, normal and above-normal temperatures.

An increased chance of below-normal precipitation is forecast for Georgia this spring, particularly in the southern half. This is in spite of the significant rains Georgia has had in the first half of March.

Shift in Global Weather

The recent rains are a sign of a shift in global weather patterns, which have returned Georgia to a more typical rain-producing pattern. However, it's not certain how long this pattern will continue.

Even with normal rainfall this spring, hydrologic drought would be expected to continue in many parts of the state.

By the end of April, normal evaporation is greater than normal precipitation statewide. Most moisture is evaporated back to the air before it can reach the deeper soils and groundwater.

Kicking Up Dust

Farmers plowing in the fields in early March in central Georgia were kicking up plumes of dust as they dug beneath the wet surface soil, in spite of having had more than 5 inches of rain in some places. Recharge of groundwater will take many months of above-normal rainfall across the state.

The CPC climate outlook for June through August indicates an increased likelihood of temperatures above normal. Precipitation is forecast to have equal chances of below-normal, normal and above-normal amounts.

These predictions show that the drought is likely to continue and may worsen during the summer.

Pam Knox is the director of the UGA Weather Network and serves as an agricultural climatologist with the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences.