A cool front swept through the lower Southeast during the latter part of June and first part of July, bringing much needed showers to the region. It wasn’t enough, however, to break the grip of a drought that remains at its highest level in north Alabama.

The U.S. Drought Monitor has placed most of north Alabama and part of central Alabama under its highest classification — exceptional drought. Most of the remainder of central Alabama is under the next highest category — extreme drought.

Huntsville, which has been described by Alabama’s State Climatologist John Christy as the “epicenter” of the state’s drought, had received 12.5 inches of rain for the year as of July 3, while the normal amount is 31 inches.

The lingering drought prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture on July 3 to designate the entire state of Alabama as a primary natural disaster area because of crop losses caused by dry weather conditions.

In addition, contiguous counties listed below in the adjacent states of Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee are also eligible:

• Florida — Escambia, Jackson, Santa Rosa, Holmes, Okaloosa and Walton.

• Georgia — Carroll, Early, Heard, Seminole, Chattahoochee, Floyd, Muscogee, Stewart,

Chattooga, Haralson, Polk, Troup, Clay, Harris, Quitman, Walker and Dade.

• Mississippi — Clarke, Itawamba, Lauderdale, Noxubee, George, Jackson, Lowndes, Tishomingo, Greene, Kemper, Monroe and Wayne.

• Tennessee — Franklin, Hardin, Lincoln, Wayne, Giles, Lawrence and Marion.

As a result of the disaster designation, farmers in the affected areas are now eligible for low-interest emergency loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency, provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley appealed to a higher power for relief from the drought, declaring June 30 through July 7 as “Days of Prayer for Rain,” and asking Alabamians to pray for rain.

Alabama’s first crop progress report for July showed that 88 percent of the state’s corn crop, 74 percent of the cotton crop, 85 percent of the soybean crop and 64 percent of the peanut crop was in poor to very poor condition.

Georgia also continues to be impacted by drought, with the majority of the state classified in either the severe or extreme category. State Climatologist David Stooksbury says stream flow levels throughout the state remain at record lows, and that most monitoring wells are near or below the lowest level expected during the year.

Stooksbury says he doesn’t see much widespread relief from the drought in the foreseeable future. “In July and August, the best hope for widespread drought relief is from tropical weather systems. Without tropical systems, we can expect the drought to worsen over the next two months,” he says.

If dry conditions continue, high temperatures between 100 and 105 degrees F. could become common in the Piedmont region of Georgia, he says. “Highs between 103 and 108 could be common in the Coastal Plain. Even the immediate coast and the mountains could have temperatures in the middle 90s,” he says.

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com