Published on 11/01/01

Three Dry Months Worsen Georgia Drought

U.S. Drought Monitor

While the plentiful rains of July brought temporary relief from the agricultural drought, three months of very dry weather have once again raised concerns across the state. The current drought, which started in May 1998, has become even worse across Georgia.

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

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

October Dry Statewide

October precipitation for selected stations in north Georgia includes Allatoona Dam at 1.7 inches (1.5 below normal), Athens at 0.4 (2.9 below), Atlanta 0.8 (2.3), Hartwell 1.3 (2.2) and Washington 0.5 (2.6).

For middle Georgia, the rainfall totals (and deficits) include Columbus at 0.8 inches (1.4), Griffin 0.4 (2.7), Woodbury 0.6 (2.4), Macon 0.2 (2.0), Augusta 0.2 (2.7) and Louisville 0.3 (2.4).

South Georgia totals (and deficits) include Americus at 0.1 inches (1.8), Alma 0.3 (1.9), Brunswick 0.2 (2.7) and Savannah 0.2 (2.2).

These dry conditions follow several months of below-normal rainfall across the state. Since Aug. 1, Atlanta has had 4.0 inches (6.1 inches below normal), Athens 3.1 inches (7.2 below), Columbus 1.9 (7.2), Macon 5.2 (3.4), Augusta 5.0 (5.7) and Savannah 9.5 (4.8).

Wildfire Danger High

The low rainfall amounts have contributed to increased potential for wildfires statewide. A killing freeze over most of the state and falling leaves have increased the amount of dry vegetation available to fuel wildfires.

The Georgia Forestry Commission rates the wildfire danger as high to extreme across most of the state. It's important that hunters and anyone else using Georgia's forests be particularly careful with fire sources such as matches and cigarettes.

Water restrictions are still 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.

Agriculture Affected, Too

The drought is also affecting the state's agriculture. Dry conditions and killing freeze have brought pasture growth to a virtual halt. Some farmers are supplementing pastures with hay. Small-grain farmers are delaying planting because of dry soils.

The winter outlook from the Climate Prediction Center doesn't offer much hope for improvement. They predict equal chances of above-, near- and below-normal temperature, but an increased chance of dry conditions through the winter.

Since winter is the season when most soil moisture is recharged, this may foretell problems going into the next growing season.

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.