Published on 05/21/99

Spring Precipitation Near Record Low

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Georgia statewide total precipitation for February through April was the second lowest for this period since 1895, according to the National Centers for Environmental Prediction. NCEP is a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

April's statewide precipitation was the eighth lowest since 1895. This follows an unusually dry second half of 1998.

Water years

In Georgia, October through March are critical times for soil moisture, groundwater and reservoir recharge. To explain this critical recharge period, climatologists use the concept of the water year, which runs Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. The natural progression in this period calls for fall and winter rains to recharge water sources, followed by maximum use by plants during the spring and summer. The cycle begins again in the fall.

Large moisture shortages during the recharge period, like Georgia has had this winter and spring, can have serious implications for the Georgia economy. This is especially true during a hot summer, which is predicted this year.

Precipitation scale

Using a 100-point scale, with 1 being dry and 100 being wet, the total precipitation for the current water year (October through April) is in the bottom 5th percentile in west central, central, southwest and south central Georgia. The rest of the state is near the 10th percentile, except for the northwest corner, which is near the 30th.

Not much promise

Georgia is entering the peak growing season with little soil moisture reserve. And outlooks don't promise much relief. The NCEP outlook for the next two weeks is for decreased soil moisture across the state. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center calls for an increased likelihood of warmer-than-normal weather for June through August. That would accelerate the loss of moisture from the soil.

The precipitation outlook for June through August is for an equal chance of below-normal, normal or above-normal rain amounts.

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