Welcome rains during December 2016 and the first week of 2017 are providing hope for Georgia farmers looking for relief from a statewide severe drought, according to Pam Knox, University of Georgia agricultural climatologist and UGA Cooperative Extension specialist.
“It always takes time for the drought to come in, and it always takes time for the drought to go out. Every week, even if we get some rain, there’s no guarantee we’re not going to go right back into a drought situation,” Knox said. “What we have received recently, though, has been great. It’s been exactly what we needed."
Georgia producers were discouraged by the lack of rainfall for most of summer and nearly all of fall 2016. According to UGA’s Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network, only 1.61 inches of rainfall were recorded in Tifton, Georgia, during the three-month span from Sept. 3 through Dec. 3, 2016. In northwest Georgia, where Knox said the drought is currently the worst, Rome received 2.8 inches of rainfall during the same time, far below the 18.8 inches it received between Sept. 3 and Dec. 3, 2015.
Georgia farmers should be encouraged by the wet, wintry conditions of the past couple of weeks, according to Knox.
“Drought does typically tend to decrease over the winter for a couple of reasons. We do tend to get more rain, and temperatures are cold, so we don’t get a lot of evaporation. The plants also aren’t growing, so they aren’t using much moisture either. Whatever we do get is going back into the soil,” Knox said. “That’s just what we need.”
From Dec. 1, 2016, through Jan. 3, 2017, rainfall accumulation in Tifton measured 11.54 inches, almost twice as much as the 6.67 inches recorded from Dec. 1, 2015, through Jan. 3, 2016, in the same location. In Moultrie, Georgia, rainfall measured 10.29 inches, much higher than the 5.56 inches and 7.06 inches recorded there for the two previous years.
“Almost always when we have had a bad drought, things improve over the winter. For example, in 2007 the drought was so bad in the fall, but by Dec. 1, we started to get more frequent rain and things started to improve,” Knox said.
While the amount of rain has been great for Georgians, the frequency with which the state has received it is even better.
“One of the nice things about the past couple of weeks is that a lot of the rain has come relatively slow, which has allowed more of it to get into the ground,” Knox said. “If we get really heavy thunderstorms, more of it runs off. Up here in Athens, (Georgia), we’ve had rain over several days, which has been really good. That kind of rain allows it to get deeper into the soil profile.”
Still, Knox insists that Georgia isn’t out of the woods. The state’s soil hasn’t been totally replenished with moisture. She believes that will happen by April 1, 2017.
“By that point, the plants are growing again and the temperatures are warm enough that if we don’t have good soil moisture by then, I think we’ve got a potential problem for the next growing season,” Knox said.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the worst drought conditions are located in the northern part of the state, just above northwest Atlanta and just below southeast Atlanta. The state’s Atlantic coastline is clear of dry conditions, as is a small part of southwest Georgia.
Receive updates from Knox by following her blog at blog.extension.uga.edu/climate/.
For up-to-date information on the drought in Georgia, go to droughtmonitor.unl.edu.