Published on 01/03/13

Warm, wet December brings some drought relief, but not enough

By Pam Knox

Georgia experienced a much warmer December than usual. Temperatures were 3-6 degrees above normal across the state. Rainfall totals ranged from more than 8 inches in the northern regions of the state to less than an inch along the coast.

In Atlanta the monthly average temperature was 51.1 degrees Fahrenheit (5.8 degrees above normal), in Athens the average was 49.8 degrees (4.4 above normal), in Columbus the average was 54.1 degrees (5 above normal), in Macon the average was 52.2 degrees (4.2 above normal), in Savannah the average was 56 degrees (4.3 above normal), in Brunswick the average was 57.4 degrees (3.3 above normal), in Alma the average was 55.7 degrees (3.1 above normal) and in Augusta the average was 51 degrees (3.8 above normal).

Augusta and Savannah were both warmer in December than the month before. It was the seventh warmest December in Columbus in 66 years of record, the ninth warmest in Atlanta in 135 years and the tenth warmest in Athens in 156 years.

Atlanta tied a daily record high of 74 degrees on December 3, matching the record set in 1982.

The highest monthly total precipitation from National Weather Service reporting stations was 5.93 inches in Atlanta (2.03 inches above normal) and the lowest was in Brunswick at 1.80 inches (0.84 below normal). Macon received 4.86 inches (0.82 inches above normal), Athens received 5.86 inches (2.13 above normal), Savannah received 1.91 inches (1.04 below normal), Columbus received 5.23 inches (0.96 above normal), Alma received 2.97 inches (0.32 below normal) and Augusta received 4.67 inches (1.28 inches above normal).

The highest single-day rainfall reported by a Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network reporter was 2.93 inches northeast of LaGrange in Troup County on December 26. An observer in Buena Vista in Marion County received 2.68 inches on the same date.

The highest monthly total rainfall was 10.43 inches, observed west of Emma in Dawson County. Two observers near Ellijay in Gilmer County reported 9.67 and 9.26 inches for the month. A few observers in northern Georgia noted some snow flurries and sleet in the last ten days of the month, but the only measurable snowfall that was reported was 0.5 inches west of Blue Ridge in Fannin County on December 30.

Severe weather was reported on two days in December. Four weak tornadoes were reported on December 17, two in Wheeler County and two in Telfair County. Observers also reported wind damage associated with these storms across the southern part of the state. A small amount of wind damage was also reported on December 20 in far southern Georgia.

Dry conditions in the southern part of the state expanded slightly due to the lack of rainfall, and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Drought Monitor, drought covered over 90 percent of the state as of December 25.

Boat ramps on Lake Lanier northeast of Atlanta were closed until further notice on December 13 due to lake levels that were within 3 feet of the bottom of the ramps. The lake was at the lowest levels since 2009. However, the lake did rise by about 18 inches in the last two weeks of December due to the much-welcomed rains across the Lake Lanier basin.

Rain late in the month is expected to reduce the severity of drought in northern areas of Georgia. However, the severity of the drought is likely to increase in southern parts of the state that have not experienced those generous rains. Even with abundant rains in northern Georgia, pond levels and stream flows have remained low since most of the rain has gone into recharging the soil moisture.

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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