Published on 02/09/10

El Niño winter hits Georgia hard

By Pam Knox

An El Niño winter continued to dominate Georgia in January, bringing cold, rainy weather to much of the state.

In El Niño winters, the subtropical jet stream is frequently located over south Georgia, leading to cool, cloudy conditions and enhanced rainfall, particularly in south Georgia.

Temperatures across the state were significantly cooler than normal. In Atlanta, the monthly average temperature was 38.5 degrees F (4.2 degrees below normal), in Athens 39.7 degrees (2.5 degrees below normal), in Columbus 41.6 degrees (5.2 degrees below normal), in Macon 42.2 degrees (3.3 degrees below normal), in Savannah 45.5 degrees (3.7 degrees below normal), in Brunswick 47 degrees (4.7 degrees below normal), in Alma 45.6 degrees (6.1 degrees below normal), in Valdosta 47.9 degrees (2 degrees below normal) and in Augusta 41.7 degrees (3.1 degrees below normal).

Low temperature records were set in Brunswick (26 degrees) Jan. 4 and in Alma (22 degrees) Jan. 7.

Rainfall in south Georgia was well above normal, according to radar estimates. Many areas south of the fall line from Columbus to Augusta and in the northeast mountains received more than 5 inches of rain.

The highest monthly total from National Weather Service reporting stations was 6.74 inches in Valdosta (.37 inches above normal). The lowest was in Brunswick at 4.33 inches (.47 inches above normal). Atlanta received 5.38 inches (.35 inches above normal), Macon 5.50 inches (.50 inches above normal), Athens 6.20 inches (1.51 inches above normal), Augusta 5.39 inches (.89 inches above normal), Columbus 5.35 inches (.57 inches above normal), Savannah 6.28 inches (2.33 inches above normal) and Alma 4.74 inches (.47 inches above normal).

Daily rainfall records were set in Atlanta Jan. 24 with 2.75 inches, Columbus Jan. 16 with 1.02 inches and Macon Jan. 21 with 1.41 inches.

The highest monthly totals from Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network stations were 9.65 inches in Clay County in southwest Georgia and 9.56 inches in Rabun County in far northeast Georgia.

The highest one-day amount occurred in Statesboro Jan. 17, when 4.40 inches were observed north of town. Albany received 4 inches Jan. 21. La Grange reported 3.98 inches Jan. 25.

The Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring site at Dawson in Terrell County reported 10.94 inches for the month. In Plains, they received 9.33 inches.

Georgians experienced one day of severe weather. Jan. 6, a weak tornado hit Chattooga County southeast of Chattoogaville and left a spotty track 2 miles long, including roof damage to several buildings. Trees were reported downed in several locations around the state. Tornado warnings were issued in late January in some areas but no tornadoes, hail or high winds were reported to the NOAA Storm Prediction Center. However, a CoCoRaHS observer in Loganville reported quarter-sized hail on Jan. 21.

Sleet, ice and snow in northern Georgia caused numerous accidents on highways and scattered power outages. Part of I-20 was closed due to ice on the roads Jan. 29 near Atlanta.

The cold weather caused greatly increased heating demands. Power companies estimated that heating costs were 30 percent above normal for this time of year and 60 percent above last winter.

Rivers in Georgia reported minor to moderate flooding on several dates throughout the month. The moderate flooding was mainly confined to the larger rivers below the fall line in central Georgia.

Heavy rains in southern Georgia continued to cause problems for farmers trying to work in fields. Cool temperatures slowed or stopped growth of forage. Farmers used hay and supplemental feed heavily, particularly during the coldest spells.

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