Posted: 3:36 pm Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

Drought has firm grip in Georgia 

By Kirk Mellish

31% of the state is covered by SEVERE or worse drought conditions. This is the most in 3 years. Across the Southeast some 11 million people are under a drought classification of some level.

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Across the general vicinity of the southern Appalachians, drought can be traced back at least 6 months. Therefore, a drought impact line was drawn across this region to not only encompass short-term impacts, but to include long-term impacts as well. Starting in northeastern Tennessee and adjacent parts of southwestern Virginia, rapid drying has contributed to a substantial number of trees losing their leaves prematurely. The D0 areas in northeastern Tennessee and western North Carolina were connected on the depiction to account for the spreading dryness. Based on the ACIS (Applied Climate Information System) 30-day SPI (Standardized Precipitation Index), CPC’s soil moisture percentiles, and VegDRI, D1 was expanded slightly east to include Hamblen County (Morristown, TN area).

In North Carolina, the North Carolina Drought Group recommended a significant expansion of D1 in western North Carolina. These changes were based on a number of considerations, some of which include low stream flows, Percent of Normal Precipitation (PNP) at various time-scales, and agricultural reports indicating damaged crop and pasture conditions. A substantial number of trees are prematurely losing their leaves and yellowing way ahead of schedule. Above-normal temperatures (anomalies of +4 to +5 degrees F in maximum temperatures) during the past week) also added to the extra evapotranspiration (ET) demand. Incidentally, the Asheville airport only received 0.02-inch of rain during the first 3 weeks of September. With the remnants of post-Tropical Cyclone Julia still meandering around the region, the depiction in east-central North Carolina remains unchanged, pending reassessment of conditions next week.

In central and northwestern Georgia, a number of 1-category degradations were made to the depiction. Extreme drought (D3) was expanded slightly north and east into the Chattanooga, TN area. Since March 1st, Chattanooga received 13.80 inches of precipitation, which is less than half of what it normally receives during this same period. The last time this happened was over a century ago, in 1902. In northwestern Georgia, very dry conditions have contributed to grassland and woodland fires. This area has been hard hit with withered crops, low-flow creeks, cattle sell-offs, and farmers seeking hay from neighboring states to feed livestock. There have also been reports of armyworm infestations. After winter rains tapered off in March, prolonged heat began in May, along with a corresponding high ET demand. Many area streams were reduced to a trickle. There has also been a large impact on hay, soybeans, and corn. In extreme northeastern Georgia, D2 was expanded eastward across the counties of Union, Towns, Lumpkin, and White.

In Alabama, showers fell generally south of a line from Marion (northwest part of state) to Geneva (southeast part of state). For areas north of this line, lots of small-scale degradations (along with a few improvements) were required. Seasonal pasture yields were dismal in some areas, notably central Lauderdale County and St. Clair County.

In northeast Mississippi, the two D0 areas were connected, indicative of spreading dryness.

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Anywhere from 6 to 15 inches of rainfall is needed to wipe out the rainfall deficit. Impacts are greatest in far north Georgia. But creeks and streams are low in and around Atlanta and central Georgia. Lake Lanier is down 6 feet below full. It was 7 years ago the metro was facing historic flooding after 8 strait days of rain.

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