Published on 03/06/09

Severe weather outbreaks unusual for February

By Pam Knox
University of Georgia

Temperatures were slightly above normal and rainfall was below normal for most of Georgia in February, according to data collected by the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network and the National Weather Service.

There were no temperature records broken or tied during the month. Most stations reported mean temperatures of 1 degree Fahrenheit above normal for the month. Athens reported the highest above-normal departure at 1.5 F. Savannah reported the lowest below-normal departure at 2.1 F.

The swings in temperature seen in January continued in February as a series of fronts moved through the region, bringing Arctic and Gulf of Mexico air by turns through Georgia. This is expected during the neutral El Niño-Southern Oscillation phase, whose effects linger, though a weak La Niña has developed in the Pacific.

Severe weather hit the state three times in February. On Feb.11, high winds were reported in far north Georgia with the development of a strong low-pressure system in the Ohio River valley.

On Feb. 18, the state experienced an unusual widespread outbreak of severe weather ahead of a low-pressure area that developed near the Gulf of Mexico and moved northeast along a cold front. Numerous reports of tornadoes and large hail along with high winds were reported in many parts of the state, causing an estimated $25 million in damages.

One person was killed in Hancock County when a mobile home rolled over, and 22 injuries were reported across the state.

A hailstone estimated at 4.25 inches was reported in Coweta County, the largest hailstone ever officially reported in February in Georgia.

On Feb. 28, a strong weather system brought high winds and hail to Georgia. Numerous trees were downed and hail was reported in Bibb and Chatham counties.

Heavy rains fell across much of Georgia, including rainfalls of more than 3 inches along the north Georgia-Alabama border. Some localized flooding was reported by the NWS.

Despite the rainfall, drought conditions expanded slightly in east Georgia and along the coast. The entire state is considered in abnormally dry conditions, with moderate drought or higher covering over 75 percent of the state.

During the month, Atlanta received 3.70 inches (or 0.98 inches below normal), Athens 3.67 inches (0.72 inches below normal), Columbus 5.44 inches (0.96 inches above normal), Macon 2.32 inches (2.23 inches below normal), Savannah 1.33 inches (1.59 inches below normal), Alma 1.47 inches (3.36 inches below normal), Brunswick 1.83 inches (2.03 inches below normal) and Augusta 3.21 inches (0.90 inches below normal).

Only two small regions of Georgia received above normal rainfall: a narrow band stretching west to east near Augusta and a small swath northeast of Valdosta. Columbus reported a new daily record of 2.75 inches of precipitation on Feb. 28.

Dry, cool conditions delayed small grain growth and suppressed winter grazing for cattle. Due to temperatures below 20 F in southeast Georgia, blueberries farmers there lost as much as 65 percent of their Southern highbush blueberries, with scattered damage to their early rabbiteye blueberries.

For more weather information, go to the Web site

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