Published on 05/03/07

Drought extreme across northwest and south Georgia

By David Emory Stooksbury
University of Georgia

Athens, Ga. -- With record to near-record high temperatures and little to no rain, northwest and south Georgia enter May in extreme drought conditions.

In northwest Georgia, Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Floyd, Polk and Walker counties are now in extreme drought.

Extreme drought conditions have developed now in Bryan, Chatham, Grady, Liberty, Long and McIntosh counties. And they remain in the south Georgia counties of Appling, Atkinson, Bacon, Berrien, Brantley, Brooks, Camden, Charlton, Clinch, Coffee, Cook, Echols, Glynn, Jeff Davis, Lanier, Lowndes, Pierce, Thomas, Ware and Wayne.

The drought has become severe across the north Georgia counties of Carroll, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, Dawson, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Harris, Heard, Lumpkin, Meriwether, Troup and White.

Bartow, Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Towns, Union, and Whitfield counties remain in severe drought in north Georgia.

Severe drought conditions continue to expand into the south Georgia counties of Bulloch, Candler, Decatur, Effingham, Mitchell, Seminole, Turner and Worth. Conditions remain severe in Ben Hill, Colquitt, Evans, Irwin, Montgomery, Tattnall, Telfair, Tift, Toombs and Wheeler counties.

The remainder of the state is classified as being in moderate drought.

Across south Georgia, the drought conditions change from moderate to extreme over short distances. Conditions in counties now classified as being in moderate drought are deteriorating very quickly.

What it means

Extreme drought conditions are defined as those expected once in 50 years, based on many indicators. Severe drought conditions are those we expect once in 20 years. Of the state's 159 counties, 33 are in extreme drought and 46 in severe drought.

Based on preliminary data, rainfall since the first of the year has been at or near record low levels in many places.

This has been the driest first 4 months (out of 109 years) for Rome, which has had only 8.40 inches of rain. Normal rainfall for the period is 21.73 inches.

The same period was the second-driest for Alma with 7.02 inches (58 years of records), Atlanta with 9.63 (78) and Jesup with 6.56 (49). It was the third-driest for Ball Ground with 10.61 inches (60) and Carrollton with 10.63 (73).

The period was the fourth-driest for Ashburn with 7.67 inches (50 years of records), Cairo with 8.91 (64), Quitman with 5.64 (112) and Thomasville with 5.42 (112). It was the fifth-driest for Blairsville with 12.59 inches (76 years), Cordele with 8.24 (79) and Folkston with 8.15 (61).

Other rainfall rankings since the first of the year include Athens, seventh-driest (in 63 years); Savannah, seventh (60); Columbus, seventh (59); Macon, eighth (57); Augusta, 12th (66); Elberton, 18th (80); Milledgeville, 22nd (104); Hawkinsville, 27th (112); Albany, 32nd (111); and Blakely, 32nd (106).

Rainfall deficits for Jan. 1 through May 1 include Augusta at 5.64 inches, Athens 5.71, Columbus 6.60, Savannah 7.10, Macon 7.51, Plains 8.07, Brunswick 8.17, Atlanta 9.62, Tiger 9.71, Alma 9.86, Tifton 10.61, Blairsville 11.68 and LaFayette 12.20.

Rivers, streams low

The U.S. Geological Survey reports daily record to near-record low stream flows for May 3 across all of Georgia except the extreme northeast. Even in the northeast, stream flows are extremely low for early May and are falling.

River and stream flows help to put droughts in historical perspective. In the Coosawattee and Oostanaula basins of northwest Georgia and the Oconee, Ocmulgee and Altamaha basins of east Georgia stream flows are near or breaking low-flow records set on May 3 in 1986.

In the northern and middle Flint River basin, the current flows are breaking records set in 2000. The May 3 flow on the Flint at Newton broke the record low for that day, set in 1981.

Rivers draining the Okefenokee Swamp are near or at record low flows set in the early 1930s and middle 1950s. In extreme southwest Georgia, stream flows in the smaller basins are breaking records set last year.

Little if any widespread, sustained relief from the drought is anticipated. The long-term outlook is for the drought to continue to intensify.

The entire state remains under the level-2 outdoor water-use schedule. Outdoor watering is allowed only from midnight to 10 a.m. on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at odd-number street addresses and on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at even-number addresses. It's banned all day on Fridays.

Local water authorities may further restrict outdoor watering.

Get updated drought information at The state drought Web site includes information on how to deal with the drought.

Updated weather information is at This University of Georgia network has 71 automated weather stations statewide.

(David Stooksbury is the state climatologist and a professor of engineering and atmospheric sciences in the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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