Published on 01/24/08

Georgia remains in drought despite winter rain

By David Stooksbury
University of Georgia

Winter rains have been a welcomed sight for Georgians tired of dealing with the drought that started in March 2006. Unfortunately, drought conditions persist across much of the state, and will likely continue.

The area north and west of the Chattahoochee River is in exceptional drought. Extreme drought conditions remain in the upper and middle Flint River basin, the upper and middle Oconee River basin and the upper and middle Savannah River basin. South-central and southeast Georgia are classified as being abnormally dry to moderate drought.

Georgia’s fall line runs from Columbus east to Augusta. Streams north of this line are below or at record low flows for late January.

The Chattahoochee River is flowing at 44 percent of its normal rate at Cornelia and 34 percent of its normal rate at Helen. The Chesatee River, the other major river that supplies water to Lake Lanier, is flowing at 40 percent of its normal rate at Dahlonega. The Etowah River, which supplies water to Lake Alattoona, is flowing at 38 percent of its normal rate at Canton.

Rivers setting record low flows for late January include the Coosa River near Rome, Coosawattee River near Pine Chapel, the Middle Oconee River near Athens, the Alcovy River above Covington and the Flint River near Griffin.

Rivers that currently have flow rates less than 50 percent of normal include the Broad River near Bell, the Chattooga River near Clayton and the Conasauga River near Tilton.

Along the fall line, soil moisture is rated at the 30th percentile. This means that 70 years out of 100 years the soils would be more moist in late January than they currently are.

Soils dry rapidly north of the fall line, where soil moisture conditions are well below normal. Soils in the mountains are rated at the 5th percentile. This means that 95 years out of 100 years the soils would be more moist in late January.

Soil moisture south of the line is rated near normal. However, while the rating is near normal, soils in many locations in south Georgia are slightly drier than average for late January. Extreme coastal Georgia has soil moisture slightly above normal.

Groundwater levels remain below normal for late January across south-central and southwest Georgia. The only monitoring wells with normal groundwater levels are in Early and Lee counties.

Surface and groundwater data is from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Rainfall deficits remains large across north Georgia. For the past 180 days, Athens has received 69 percent of its normal rainfall, Atlanta has received 73 percent and Columbus has received 89 percent.

For the past year, Athens has received 63 percent of its normal rainfall, Atlanta has received 60 percent and Columbus 79 percent.

The outlook isn’t promising. There is still a very good probability that drought conditions will intensify. Thanks to a moderate to strong La Niña climate pattern, there is a high probability that Georgia will experience temperatures above normal and rainfall below normal through spring.

There is concern Georgia will not receive enough rain this winter and spring to cushion us this summer. If we do not receive enough rain, we may need strong conservation efforts in summer to protect the water supply.

For current Georgia drought information, go to the Web site Weather information is available at University of Georgia automated weather station network Web site

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