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Drought lingers despite recent rainfall

By David Emory Stooksbury
University of Georgia

Athens, Ga. – If Georgia doesn't receive adequate rainfall over the next three to four months, drought conditions in summer and fall next year will likely be worse than those in 2007.

Drought conditions will persist across regions of the state currently in drought and likely expand statewide by spring.

Half of state in extreme drought

Half of the state is in extreme drought conditions now. The worst conditions are across the mountains and piedmont regions west of Interstate 75.

The extreme- to exceptional-drought regions of the state will probably muddle through the winter and early spring. But without a significant recharge of the soil moisture, groundwater, streams and reservoirs, conditions next summer could become catastrophic in these regions.

Moisture conditions across southeast and coastal Georgia are deteriorating, and abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions have developed in these regions.

Drought's not breaking

While winter rains will lead to short-term improvement in soil moisture, stream flows, groundwater levels and reservoir levels, it is imperative that Georgians do not assume that the drought is breaking.

Currently, there is no relief in sight.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center predicts a moderate to strong La Niña pattern to persist through spring. With this pattern, a warm, dry winter and spring are highly probable across middle and south Georgia.

Across north Georgia, there is high probability that all except the extreme northwest corner will be warm and dry through spring.

Extreme northwest Georgia will be near the transition from dry weather to the south and wet weather across the Tennessee and Ohio River valleys. This means that northwest Georgia could be wetter or drier than normal through the winter and spring.

With the moderate to strong La Niña pattern in place, there is a high likelihood that north and west Georgia won't be able to recover from the drought this winter.

Dry winter and spring likely

The current La Niña pattern also means that areas of southeast Georgia that aren't classified as being in drought could be experiencing drought conditions by spring.

The Southeast Climate Consortium is calling for a high probability that most of the Southeast will continue to experience a dry winter and spring.

Temperatures across most of the region will likely be above normal. Only northern Alabama and extreme northern Georgia have much of a chance of bucking the warm and dry trend.

As we move into late spring and early summer, indications are that the La Niña pattern will slowly weaken with neutral conditions expected for the summer.

NOAA forecasts a chance of some improvement across extreme northwest and north-central Georgia, but with drought likely to develop across southeast and coastal Georgia.

Plethora of information available

Water-conservation and drought-management tips for home, garden, landscapes and pets can be found at www.caes.uga.edu/topics/disasters/drought/home/index.html.

Get updated drought information at www.georgiadrought.org. The 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.

The Southeast Climate Consortium has a wealth of agricultural and climate Web-based tools available at www.agclimate.org. The impact of climate on coastal regions can be found on the Web at www.coastalclimate.org.

(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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