Published on 10/01/08

Georgia’s drought gets worse in dry September

By David Emory Stooksbury
University of Georgia

Tropical Storm Fay brought beneficial rain to Georgia in late August. But a very dry September has led to the return of low stream flows across the state and worsened drought conditions.

All streams in Georgia except those originating in the extreme southern counties are extremely low. Most streams in the state’s northern half are at or near record low flows for this time of the year.

Because of the extremely low stream flows, many counties have had their drought level classification changed to a more intense drought level.

The region now in extreme drought is north and east of a line from Burke, Jefferson, Washington, Hancock, Putnam, Morgan, Walton, Gwinnett, north Fulton, Cherokee, Pickens and Murray counties. This includes the cities of Athens, Augusta, Blairsville, Clayton, Cumming, Gainesville and Madison. Extreme drought conditions occur about once in 50 years.

Severe drought now exists north of a line from Screven, Jenkins, Candler, Toombs, Jeff Davis, Telfair, Ben Hill, Wilcox, Dooly, Macon, Schley, Marion, Chattahoochee counties. It includes Atlanta, Columbus, Macon and Rome. Severe drought conditions occur about once in 20 years.

Moderate drought conditions exists in Appling, Bacon, Bullock, Coffee, Crisp, Effingham, Evans, Irwin, Pierce, Quitman, Stewart, Sumter, Tattnall, Turner and Webster counties. Moderate drought conditions occur about once in 10 years.

Mild drought conditions are found in Atkinson, Berrien, Brantley, Clay, Lanier, Lee, Long, Randolph, Terrell, Tift, northern Ware, Wayne and Worth counties. Mild drought conditions occur about once in seven years.

Abnormally dry counties are Baker, Brooks, Bryan, Calhoun, Camden, Charlton, Chatham, Clinch, Colquitt, Cook, Decatur, Dougherty, Early, Echols, Glynn, Grady, Liberty, Lowndes, McIntosh, Miller, Mitchell, Seminole, Thomas and southern Ware.

The biggest concerns over the next several weeks will be stream flows and soil moisture.

Lake Lanier is at a record low for this time of the year.

In the Savannah River basin, Clarks Hill Reservoir only has 2.78 feet of usable pool remaining, Lake Russell 1.31 feet and Lake Hartwell 19.57 feet. Since Lake Hartwell is at the top of the basin, its water will be used to support downstream reservoirs and other water needs. Lake Hartwell’s water level is expected to drop significantly over the next several weeks.

Farm ponds are showing the lack of rain. Beef and dairy producers are having to move cattle for drinking water purposes or find alternative water sources.

Low soil moisture in the fall can be good for harvesting some crops. But not all farmers benefit from the dry conditions. The dry weather will likely prevent some from getting another cutting of hay. It will also inhibit the planting of small grains and over seeding of pastures.

The probability for meaningful drought relief over the next couple of weeks is low. October is still in the tropical storm season. But the likelihood of tropical weather impacting Georgia diminishes rapidly as the month progresses.

Additional drought information and updates can be found at

Automated weather data across Georgia is at Daily rainfall from CoCoRaHS is available at U.S. Geological Survey data is at

Water conservation information is available at

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