Published on 05/16/00

No End Seen as Drought Worsens in Georgia

As Georgia enters its third straight year of drought, conditions continue to worsen. There is no sign of relief as summer nears. With very little rain and temperatures in the 80s and 90s, soils statewide are drying fast.

Since January 1, rainfall has been well below normal across the state. As of May 15, Athens had received 57 percent, Atlanta 58 percent, Augusta 66 percent, Columbus 64 percent, Macon 60 percent, Rome 58 percent, Savannah 75 percent and Tifton 56 percent of normal rainfall.

Computer soil-moisture models from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center show soil moisture at or near record-low levels.

Soil moisture in the western half of the state is extremely low. It is near the first percentile in many places. This means that in 99 of 100 years, soil moisture would be higher than it is now.

Georgia Rivers Register Record-Low Flows

stream515.gif (11422 bytes)
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

10th - 24th percentile
Below 10th percentile
New record low for day
O Not ranked

Streams south of an Athens-to-Atlanta line are at or near record-low daily flows. Record low flows for May 15 are being reported on the Chattahoochee River at Atlanta and near Whitesburg.

Other daily record-low flows are being reported on the Flint River near Culloden and at Montezuma, Albany and Newton; on the Ocmulgee near Jackson and at Macon; and on Little River near Washington. The Oconee and Altamaha Rivers are near record-low flows.

Agriculture Feeling Impact

Agriculture is feeling the impact of the prolonged drought. In some Georgia areas, farmers have stopped planting because of poor seed germination. Crops that have been planted are showing moisture stress.

Many farmers have started irrigating crops. They are thus drawing down farm ponds and groundwater early in the growing season. Pastures are fast deteriorating.

With the dry soils and warm weather, the wildfire threat is extremely high across the state. Alan Dozier of the Georgia Forestry Commission reports that since Jan. 1, the state has had 10 percent more wildfires, with twice the normal acres burned.

Little Hope for Relief

There is little hope for statewide relief during the next several months.

Georgia is now in the time of the year when soil-moisture loss from evaporation and plant use (transpiration) normally exceeds rainfall. So even if normal rainfall patterns return during the summer, soil moisture will remain extremely low.

The most likely result is that soil moisture levels will continue to decline during the summer.

The most likely form of relief during the summer is a tropical weather system. However, there is a big price to pay for that relief.

Tropical weather systems can and do bring flooding and wind damage statewide. Ironically, while we are in a drought, Georgians need to be preparing for possible flooding and wind damage, too, as we enter hurricane season in a couple of weeks.

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