Published on 02/03/11

Georgia eyes coldest winter ever

By Pam Knox

Cold temperatures and heavy snow crippled north Georgia in January. Despite heavier-than-normal snowfall, precipitation amounts were below normal, increasing drought conditions across the state.

Georgia’s temperature was significantly below normal last month. In Atlanta, the monthly average temperature was 40.2 degrees F (2.5 degrees below normal), in Athens 39.7 degrees (2.5 degrees below normal), Columbus 43.6 degrees (3.2 degrees below normal), Macon 42 degrees (3.5 degrees below normal), Savannah 45.1 degrees (4.1 degrees below normal), Brunswick 49.1 degrees (2.6 degrees below normal), Alma 44.9 degrees (6.8 degrees below normal), Valdosta 47.3 degrees (2.6 degrees below normal) and Augusta 41.7 degrees (3.1 degrees below normal).

If colder-than-normal temperatures continue into February, this winter could possibly set records for the coldest winter ever in some parts of Georgia. Record low temperatures were set at Macon, Savannah and Alma Jan. 14. Macon reported 16 degrees, breaking the old record of 19 degrees set that date in 1970. Savannah and Alma reported 18 degrees, surpassing the old records of 20 degrees set at both locations in 1964.

Dry conditions from December continued into January, leading to an increase in the severity and expanse of drought across Georgia. The only area that was above average in rainfall was a small area in far southeast Georgia.

The highest monthly total precipitation from National Weather Service reporting stations was 4.93 inches in Valdosta (1.44 inches below normal). The lowest was in Augusta at 2.11 inches (2.39 inches below normal). Athens received 3.32 inches (1.37 inches below normal), Atlanta 2.63 inches (2.4 inches below normal), Alma 2.29 inches (2.54 inches below normal), Columbus 3.15 inches (1.63 inches below normal), Macon 2.79 inches (2.21 inches below normal), Savannah 2.46 inches (1.49 inches below normal) and Brunswick 3.10 inches (0.76 inch below normal).

Brunswick set a daily precipitation record of 1.96 inches of rain Jan. 25, passing the old record of 1.68 inches set in 1966. Athens reported a daily record snowfall of 4.3 inches Jan. 10, surpassing the old record of a trace observed in previous years. The winter storm that hit Jan. 9-10 brought 8.8 inches snow to Athens, an all-time record for a 24-hour snow total for the city. The extensive storm caused widespread school and business closings, multiple traffic accidents and scattered power outages across north Georgia.

Thousands of flights were canceled across the eastern US. Several thousand people lost power. It was estimated that $300 million was lost in unrecoverable retail sales due to the lengthy clean-up period. Some schools in north Georgia were closed for an entire week.

The highest single-day rainfall from Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network was 2.41 inches near Lafayette in Walker County Jan. 1. An observer in St. Marys in Camden County reported 2.30 inches Jan. 26. The highest monthly total precipitation of 6.72 inches was measured at Lake Park in Lowndes County. The highest monthly snowfall measured by a CoCoRaHS observer in January was 14.4 inches in Blue Ridge in Fannin County, followed by 11.2 inches in Ringgold in Catoosa County.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that pastures continued to be in very poor to fair condition across most of the state. Harvest of soybeans, cotton, sorghum and pecans wrapped up.

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

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