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Potentially wetter, cooler winter ahead

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Georgia is wet and getting wetter, according to State Climatologist David Emory Stooksbury.

Stooksbury said Tuesday that only a small fragment of the state -- near the southeastern tip -- remained in abnormally dry conditions.

"With rainfall occurring state-wide, that situation is likely to change," he said.

The National Weather Service has forecast rainfall throughout the state Tuesday, with a quarter-to-half-an-inch falling in parts of metro Atlanta. Weather forecasters expect chances of rain to increase later this week, heading into the weekend.

The continued rainfall means increased potential for flooding in some areas, said Stooksbury.

"The soils are saturated, which is unusual for late October," he said. "Usually, the soils are their driest in October. The concern right now -- with the soils already saturated -- is that, there is an increased likelihood of flooding in the winter, and through early spring."

The state's recent rainfall, Stooksbury added, has not been associated with tropical systems from which Georgia typically receives most of its late summer and early fall rains.

"The ocean-atmosphere system is currently in the El Nino pattern," he said. "This pattern is expected to persist through the winter."

There is a high likelihood that the weather will be wetter and cooler than normal this winter. A cooler winter, he explained, does not necessarily mean periodic, cold, arctic blasts from the North, but could mean coolness caused by an increase in cloudiness.

He said there is also little water evaporation in the fall, with now-dormant plants absorbing less water, which means water is filling the ground table as well as local streams.

According to Stooksbury, many streams that are usually at their lowest flows during October are at levels normally seen in March, which is the month that generally has the highest flows.

"The good news is that we have been able to replenish our surface water system, like our reservoirs and ground water," he said. "So, the rains are giving us a good reservoir of moisture for next summer. [However,] since the soils are already near saturation and stream flows high, the potential for flooding this winter is higher than normal."

Stooksbury urges caution among Georgia residents, with the increased potential for flooding.

He participates in the national "Turn Around Don't Drown," or TADD, campaign, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service, to warn people of the hazards of walking or driving a vehicle through flood waters.

"Unfortunately, the majority of deaths from flooding occur from people driving their car into a flooded roadway," he said. "If there is a flooded roadway, and you can't see the road, my best advice is turn around and go another way."

Stooksbury said another issue that has been at the forefront for thousands in the metro-Atlanta area in recent weeks is flood insurance. "Standard home owners and standard business insurance does not include flood damage," he said. "You have to buy an additional policy for flood damage [through your respective home insurer]."

He said, however, that insurance to cover flood damage tends to be relatively cheap, because it is underwritten by the federal government.

"Anybody that lives within the 100-year flood plane should have flood insurance," said Stooksbury. "And if you wanted to be really safe, get it if you live within the 500-year flood plane. And people should remember that it takes 30 days for the policy to go into effect."