Published on 08/29/01

Drought Becomes Visible Again in Georgia

A dry August has allowed Georgia's long-running drought to become visible again as pastures, row crops, lawns and gardens suffer from lack of water.

While above-normal rains in June allowed the state to emerge from an agricultural drought (a short-term water deficit), Georgia remained in a hydrological drought, or a negative long-term water balance. There is little hope of statewide, long-term relief until winter.

As the hydrological drought persists, Georgia is on the verge of returning to an agricultural drought, too. The drought that started in May 1998 had been virtually invisible during June and July. Above-normal rains in June and timely rains in July had allowed for lush summer plant growth.

Real Impacts Hidden

But all those green plants were hiding the real impacts of the drought: low soil-moisture supplies, groundwater levels and lake levels at Lake Lanier and Lake Hartwell.

Most places across the state have had only about half their normal August rainfall. Through Aug. 28, the month's rainfall deficits in north Georgia include Athens at 2.84 inches, Atlanta 2.61, Blairsville 1.46, Calhoun 1.42, Dallas 1.69, Duluth 0.91, Dunwoody 1.59, Ellijay 0.56, Gainesville 0.40, Rome 1.81 and Watkinsville 1.58.

Across middle Georgia, the deficits include Augusta at 2.85 inches, Columbus 1.78, Cordele 2.54, Dearing 1.89, Eatonton 2.29 and Griffin 2.74.

And in south Georgia, August rainfall deficits include Alma at 1.53 inches, Brunswick 1.21, Camilla 0.49, Newton 2.55, Plains 1.17, Savannah 4.32, Statesboro 3.68, Tifton 2.55, Valdosta 2.49 and Vidalia 2.28.

Soil-Moisture Losses

More important than the rainfall deficits is the actual loss of moisture from the soils. Soils lose moisture through evaporation and transpiration (plant water use).

Since Aug. 1 (with soil-moisture losses since July 1 in parentheses), soil-moisture losses in north Georgia include Blairsville at 1.91 inches (4.24), Calhoun 2.81 (2.44), Dallas 2.40 (4.30), Duluth 2.02 (0.77), Dunwoody 2.36 (3.66), Ellijay 1.00 (2.93), Gainesville 1.75 (0.31), Rome 2.35 (5.14) and Watkinsville 3.22 (0.73).

In middle Georgia since Aug. 1 (since July 1), soil-moisture losses include Cordele at 4.17 inches (8.22 inches), Dearing 2.45 (5.94), Eatonton 3.39 (4.38) and Griffin 4.03 (8.94).

And in south Georgia since Aug. 1 (since July 1) soil-moisture losses include Alma at 1.12 inches (2.44), Brunswick 0.41 (2.51), Camilla 1.46 (4.48), Newton 3.63 (6.68), Plains 2.31 (4.94), Savannah Bamboo Farm 3.66 (5.07), Statesboro 4.34 (2.65), Tifton 3.63 (6.68), Valdosta 1.90 (3.57) and Vidalia 2.89 (4.92).

Relief Not in Sight

There is little hope for long-term relief during the next three months. September through November is historically Georgia's driest period.

Without rainfall from tropical weather, there is little chance that the state will receive enough widespread beneficial rain to end both the hydrological drought and the impending agricultural drought.

A wetter than normal winter is the best hope for Georgia to emerge from the long-term drought.

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

David Emory Stooksbury is associate professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.