As the end of June approaches, drought conditions continue in Georgia. A few places have experienced some relief over the past few weeks from locally heavy rains. But as a whole, the drought continues to slowly worsen statewide.
Of Georgia's 159 counties, 104 are now classified as being in extreme drought, 38 in severe drought, 15 in moderate drought and two in mild drought. This compares to early June, when the numbers of counties in extreme, severe, moderate and mild drought were 95, 49, 12 and three, respectively.
Extreme drought conditions have expanded into the northeast Georgia counties of Clarke, Elbert, Franklin, Greene, Madison, Oconee, Oglethorpe and Stephens. They have also developed in Jones County in central Georgia.
The extreme drought now exists in Brooks, Colquitt, Tift, Turner, Crisp, Dooly, Macon, Peach, Bibb, Jones, Putnam, Greene, Oglethorpe and Elbert counties and in all counties north and west of that line. Extreme conditions continue in Atkinson, Ben Hill, Coffee, Irwin and Wilcox counties, too.
Severe drought conditions continue in Lowndes, Lanier, Clinch, Ware, Bacon, Jeff Davis, Telfair, Wheeler, Montgomery, Toombs, Tattnall, Evans and Bryan counties and in all counties south and east of that line. Severe conditions also exist in Baldwin, Berrien, Bullock, Candler, Cook, Dodge, Glascock, Hancock, Houston, Pulaski, Taliaferro, Twiggs, Warren and Wilkes counties.
Moderate drought conditions have developed in Burke County. They continue in Beckley, Emanuel, Jefferson, Jenkins, Johnson, Laurens, Lincoln, McDuffie, Screven, Treutlen, Washington and Wilkinson counties.
Chatham and Effingham counties have benefitted from local rains and are now in moderate drought conditions. Columbia and Richmond counties remain in a mild drought.
In early June, rains from the remnants of Tropical Storm Barry brought relief to much of southeast, south-central and east Georgia. However, the benefits are quickly subsiding. Over the past two weeks, many areas that received these rains have had less than 60 percent of normal rains. Some places have had less than 30 percent of normal rains.
Stream flows in areas that received the rains from Barry's remnants are slowly dropping. Many of these streams are at or near the 10th percentile. Daily stream flows are expected be greater in nine out of 10 years at the 10th percentile.
Rivers near or below the 10th percentile in southeast Georgia include the Altamaha at Doctortown, Ogeechee near Eden, Satilla at Atkinson and near Waycross and Suwannee at Fargo.
Across the remainder of the state, stream flows are at or near record low flows for late June. Daily record low flows for June 25 are being set on the Apalachee River near Bostwick, Chattooga (northeast Georgia) near Clayton, Chattooga (northwest Georgia) near Summerville, Coosa near Rome, Coosawattee near Ellijay, Flint at Newton, Middle Oconee near Athens, Ochlockonee near Thomasville and Oconee at Milledgeville and Dublin.
High temperatures have reached into the middle to upper 90s across much of the state during the past week, drying soils and stressing crops and livestock as well as people.
Soil moisture levels are below the 5th percentile north and west of a line from Brooks to Bibb to Elbert counties. At the 5th percentile, we would expect more moisture in the soils in 95 of 100 years in late June.
In the regions that received rains from Barry, the soil moisture is between the 20th and 33rd percentiles. At these levels we would expect more moisture in the soils in four out of five years and two out of three years, respectively, in late June.
Groundwater levels remain low statewide for this time of the year. Most monitoring wells are near or below the lowest level expected during the year. Water levels in wells continue to drop, even in the areas that had heavy rain earlier in the month.
No widespread relief is seen 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.
If dry conditions continue, high temperatures between 100 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit could become common in the Piedmont region of Georgia. 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.
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.
EDITOR’S NOTE — 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.)