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Metro area dodges mild drought around state

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Drought conditions are closing in on metro Atlanta, according to state climatologist David Stooksbury.

Though some areas of the state are classified as drought-free, and others as abnormally dry, mild drought conditions have developed in north-central, west-central and southwestern parts of the state, Stooksbury said.

Only about 46 percent of Georgia's land area is drought-free currently, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center's latest U. S. Drought Monitor Report, released on Aug. 12. The remaining 64 percent of the state is either abnormally dry or in a moderate drought. The report indicates that three months ago, in May, drought conditions were non-existent in Georgia.

Stooksbury added that the state had been drought-free for more than a year, but drought conditions are quickly returning to some areas of Georgia, while others remain untouched.

"For the past three months, counties now in mild drought have received between 50 percent and 75 percent of normal rainfall," Stooksbury said. "Over the last 90 days, Atlanta has received 113 percent of normal rainfall."

The state climatologist said the area between Atlanta and Macon, Ga., has received a healthy amount of rainfall, due to this summer's afternoon pop-up rain showers and thunderstorms.

"The central part of the state just benefited from some timely rain showers," he said. "That corridor, along I-75, is in much better shape than the rest of the state."

While area reservoirs are in good shape, "soil moisture is starting to decline across the entire state," said Stooksbury. He attributed the water loss in soils to this summer's above-normal temperatures.

"Any time you have warmer temperatures, you're going to have moisture lost due to evaporation from the soil," he said.

"The high temperatures in Atlanta have been the 5th warmest out of 82 years," continued Stooksbury, citing data from the National Weather Service. "More dramatically, the night-time temperatures have been the warmest in 82 years."

The heat is a main concern for agriculturists, according to Frank Hancock, Henry County's agriculture and natural resources agent for the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

Hancock said irrigation has yet to pose any challenges this summer for plant growers. "What's going on right now is nothing like a couple of years ago, when it didn't rain for the entire season," Hancock said. "We went for months with out rain.

"Pastures have been growing pretty good this summer," he continued. "Up until the last couple of weeks, we've had pretty good rainfall. It's been dry; but, of course, if we get some rain this weekend, it should get better," said Hancock.

"But we're also approaching the end of our vegetable season. [And] we're coming into the dry part of the year, in September and October."

Dryness across the state is expected to increase over the next several weeks, unless Georgia receives beneficial rains from moisture-supplying tropical disturbances, said Stooksbury.

"It is too early to tell exactly how the La Nina pattern [associated with dry, warm winters in the Southeast] will impact Georgia," he said, "but we need to be aware of the possible short-term tropical impacts and the long-term drought impacts."