Published on 07/11/00

Drought Keeps Firm Grip on Georgia

soilmoisture79.gif (11924 bytes)Athens, Ga. -- A hot, dry early July has intensified the impacts from Georgia's 27-month-old drought.

Low soil-moisture levels, low stream flows and high wildfire potential continue to be of concern. The state's economy continues to be affected. Crop and animal production, forestry and the green industry continue to be severely impacted. Drought conditions aren't expected to improve soon.

Locally heavy rains in late June brought some short-term relief to some of the state's parched soils. However, the helpful moisture quickly evaporated, with temperatures in the 90s during early July.

Drought Conditions Statewide

Drought conditions are present statewide. The worst conditions are in the southwest, northern coastal plain and piedmont regions of the state. Unfortunately, the six largest cities in the state are in these regions.

Soil moisture is very low across the state. The Climate Prediction Center's soil-moisture-model output for July 10 ranks soil-moisture levels at the 1st percentile across southwest and central Georgia. At the 1st percentile level, soils would have more moisture in 99 years out of 100.

Soil-moisture rankings in the remaining northern two-thirds of the state are between the 1st and 5th percentiles. At the 5th percentile, soils would have more moisture in 95 years out of 100. Soil moisture levels in south central and southeast Georgia are between the 5th and 10th percentiles.

streams711.gif (11482 bytes)


  bluedot.gif (119 bytes)   > 90th Percentile
  orangedot.gif (119 bytes)   10th - 24th Percentile
  burntdot.gif (74 bytes)   < 10th Percentile
  recorddot.gif (119 bytes)   Record Low for Day
  recorddot.gif (119 bytes)   Not Recorded

Stream Flows at or Near Record Lows

Stream flows are at or near daily record lows for the date. Some streams are setting all-time record lows. Daily record low flows were observed on July 10 on the Flint River near Culloden and at Montezuma, the Satilla near Waycross, the Oconee at Dublin, the Little near Washington and the Broad near Bell.

Near-daily-record-lows were reported on the Ohoopee River near Reidsville, the Ocmulgee at Macon and Lumber City, the Tallulah near Clayton and the Etowah at Canton.

Concern about wildfires continues. Foresters use the Keetch-Byram Drought Index as a tool to determine wildfire behavior. Except for extreme north Georgia, the KBDI is in excess of 500. Most of the state has KBDI values greater than 600.

When KBDI reaches 500, wildfires are hard to control. KBDI values above 600 mean that putting out wildfires becomes a major problem.

No Major Relief in Sight

No widespread, major relief from the drought is in sight. With temperatures in the 90s, Georgia's soils are losing close to 1.5 inches of moisture a week because of evaporation and plant water use.

To keep soil moisture at current levels, we will need 1.5 inches of water a week added to the soils. To make a significant dent into the drought, we will need to add about 10 inches of water to the soils.

Even a tropical storm would not be able to add enough water to the soils. Much of the water from a tropical storm would not enter the soils but would run off, causing flooding. It appears that Georgia's best hope of pulling out of the current drought is a long, wet winter.

The University of Georgia has two drought-related Web sites that are updated daily. The Drought 2000 Web site ( has information about current drought conditions, impacts and suggestions for reducing impacts. The Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network Web site ( e /) has current weather information and tools for data analysis.

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