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La Nina Keeping Drought Going.

The drought that has gripped Georgia since late spring 1998 will continue well into 2000. Major concerns during early 2000 will be an increased risk of wildfires and the lack of moisture to recharge groundwater, farm ponds and reservoirs. The lack of rain is adding to concerns about spring and summer soil moisture supplies. Without adequate recharge during the winter and early spring, soil moisture will be in short supply during the 2000 growing season.

Currently, the greatest concern is in south and central Georgia. However, north Georgia is also dry. Conditions need to be closely monitored.

La Nina Pattern

The continuation of the drought is related to La Nina. La Nina is an abnormal cooling of the surface water in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. The world's oceans and the atmosphere interact. The abnormally cool equatorial Pacific waters influence the position of upper air wind patterns (jet streams). The upper air wind patterns are the driving currents for weather during a La Nina winter. The La Nina pattern usually brings less storminess and less precipitation across most of the southeastern United States.

The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that La Nina gained in strength during November and shows no signs of weakening. National Center for Environmental Prediction's computer models are indicating that the current La Nina event could continue through the middle of the year 2000. Thus the drought is expected to continue.

Outlook Dry

The January through March 2000 climate outlook from CPC is for a northwest to southeast increased probability of below normal precipitation across Georgia. Specifically, the outlook is for a 48 percent chance of below normal, a 33 percent chance of normal, and only a 19 percent chance of above normal precipitation south of an Augusta to Thomasville line. Northwest of a Clayton to La Grange line, probabilities are for equal chances of below normal, normal or above normal precipitation.

The temperature outlook for January through March 2000 is for an increased probability of above normal temperatures statewide. North of a Blakely to Sylvania line the outlook is for a 58 percent probability of above normal, a 33 percent probability of normal, and a 9 percent probability of below normal temperatures. South of this line, the outlook is for a 48 percent probability of above normal, a 33 percent probability of normal, and a 19 percent probability of below normal temperatures.

Take Precautions

The climate outlooks are based on averages and are not day-to-day weather forecasts. While the winter may have above normal average temperatures, Georgia will still experience cold weather. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security. Normal wintertime precautions for cold should still be performed. Plants and animals that are subject to cold should still be given the proper protection. Without a normal late fall hardening period, some plants will be more prone to cold damage. This is especially true of plants that have not gone fully dormant for the winter.

The wintertime precipitation outlooks are also based on averages and are not day-to-day forecasts. Even while the drought continues, Georgia will continue to have rainfall. Areas that are prone to flood are still at risk, even during a drought. Proper precautions, including flood insurance, need to continue.

(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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