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Drought worst yet in northwest, southwest Georgia
By David Emory Stooksbury
University of Georgia

Scattered showers and thunderstorms slowed Georgia's slide into deeper drought during June and July. While conditions deteriorated more slowly, northwest and southwest Georgia still slid into exceptional drought.

Bountiful rains have greatly improved conditions in southeast and coastal Georgia. Parts of inland southeast Georgia, 12 counties in all, are no longer classified as being in drought.

Of Georgia's remaining 147 counties, drought conditions are exceptional in 37, extreme in 55, severe in 16, moderate in 21 and mild in 10, with eight abnormally dry.

In late June, no counties were in exceptional drought, but conditions were extreme in 104 and severe in 38. Then, conditions were moderate in just 15 and mild in only two, and no county was just abnormally dry or not in drought.

Exceptional drought conditions are expected about once in 100 years. This is based on many indicators, including rainfall since Oct. 1 and over the past 180, 90, 30 and 14 days, soil moisture, stream flows, groundwater levels and reservoir levels.

Northwest, southwest counties scorched

These exceptional conditions have developed in 23 northwest Georgia counties: Bartow, Carroll, Catoosa, Chattooga, Cherokee, Cobb, Coweta, Dade, Douglas, Floyd, Fulton, Gilmer, Gordon, Haralson, Harris, Heard, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk, Troup, Walker and Whitfield.

In southwest Georgia, 14 counties now have exceptional drought conditions: Baker, Calhoun, Clay, Decatur, Dougherty, Early, Grady, Miller, Mitchell, Quitman, Randolph, Seminole, Terrell and Thomas.

Soil moisture is near the first percentile in northwest and southwest Georgia. At this level, we would expect the soil to be moister in 99 of 100 years.

Several streams in southwest and northwest Georgia are at record low flows for early August. These include Ichawaynochaway Creek near Milford, Spring Creek near Iron City, the Flint River at Bainbridge, Cedar Creek near Cedartown and the Oostanaula River near Rome.

Other rivers setting record low flows for the date are the Flint near Griffin and the Chattooga near Clayton.

Soil moisture dropping

With temperatures hovering around 100 and many regions getting little to no rain over the past seven to 10 days, soil moisture levels are dropping quickly statewide.

Soil moisture loss to evaporation and plant use is now running between one-quarter and one-third of an inch per day. If the August trend of hot days with little to no rain continues, the regions in relatively good shape could find conditions deteriorating quickly.

Severe drought conditions are in Atkinson, Clinch, Crawford, Crisp, Dooly, Greene, Irwin, Jasper, Lincoln, Macon, Monroe, Peach, Putnam, Taliaferro, Turner and Wilkes counties.

Short-term moisture deficits have caused drought conditions to deteriorate especially in the central and southern Savannah River Valley. Rainfall over the past month has been between 50 percent and 70 percent of normal.

Deteriorating conditions have resulted in moderate drought in Bulloch, Burke, Columbia, Effingham, Evans, Glascock, Jenkins, McDuffie, Screven, Richmond and Warren counties.

Moderate conditions are also in Baldwin, Bibb, Ben Hill, Coffee, Hancock, Houston, Jones, Pulaski, Ware and Wilcox counties.

Drought conditions are mild in Bacon, Bleckley, Dodge, Jeff Davis, Jefferson, Pierce, Telfair, Twiggs, Washington and Wilkinson counties.

Helpful rains

Much of coastal and southeast Georgia had bountiful rains in June and July. However, rainfall deficits for the water year (since Oct. 1) leave eight of these counties classified as abnormally dry: Brantley, Bryan, Camden, Charlton, Chatham, Glynn, Liberty and McIntosh.

The summer rains have brought Appling, Candler, Emanuel, Johnson, Laurens, Long, Montgomery, Tattnall, Toombs, Treutlen, Wayne and Wheeler counties back to normal conditions.

In these counties rainfall for the water year and the past 180, 90, 30 and 14 days has been near or above normal. Soil moisture levels are near normal for early August.

Because of the sandy nature of these counties' soils, however, agricultural drought can develop quickly if temperatures remain in the middle to upper 90s with little to no rain.

Extreme drought

The remaining 55 Georgia counties are in extreme drought, including most of south-central, west-central, north-central and northeast Georgia.

Across the extreme drought region, soil moisture levels are between the 2nd and 5th percentiles. At these levels, we would expect soils to be moister in 95 to 98 of 100 years.

Stream flows in this region are generally between the 2nd and 5th percentiles. With little rain and 100-degree temperatures over the past week, many of these streams are nearing record low levels.

Groundwater levels remain low statewide for this time of the year.

Relief?

No widespread relief is foreseeable. In August and September, the best hope for widespread drought relief is from tropical weather systems. Without these, we can expect the drought to worsen over the next two months.

If dry conditions continue, high temperatures during August can be expected to remain in the middle 90s to low 100s across the piedmont and coastal plain. The Georgia mountains can expect temperatures in the upper 80s to middle 90s.

Get updated drought information at www.georgiadrought.org. The state drought Web site includes information on how to deal with the drought.

Updated weather information is at www.georgiaweather.net. This University of Georgia network has 71 automated weather stations statewide.

(David Emory Stooksbury is the state climatologist and a professor of engineering and atmospheric sciences in the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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

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