Over the winter months, drought usually decreases due to the lower water demands from dormant plants and the lower temperatures, which reduce evaporation from the soil.

The rain and snow we get normally soaks into the ground and replenishes the soil moisture for the spring planting season. This is likely to happen regardless of how much precipitation we get over the winter.

However, once the next growing season starts, these reserves of soil moisture could be quickly exhausted when plants break dormancy and evaporation increases in the warmer temperatures.

The outlook for winter precipitation is uncertain. Originally, an El Niño weather pattern was predicted to occur this winter. This was excellent news, since El Niño is usually associated with above normal rainfall across Georgia.

However, the El Niño fizzled early, and now we are in neutral conditions — with neither an El Niño nor La Niña present to steer storms towards or away from Georgia.

In neutral conditions, we know that the state is equally likely to receive normal, below normal and normal amounts of precipitation. This is of concern because with the current dry conditions, below normal precipitation will make the drought worse, and even normal rainfall will only lead to moderate decreases in drought over the winter.

There is only a 33 percent chance of getting above normal rainfall based on statistics for neutral years. This means that spring soil moisture could be of critical concern to farmers, since germination and plant development depend on having adequate supplies of soil moisture.

Low stream flows and falling ground water levels, especially in the Flint River basin, could affect southwest Georgia farmers' ability to irrigate their fields in the coming months.

Without a La Niña or El Niño weather patterns, predicting temperatures over the course of the winter is difficult. However, neutral conditions have been associated with more frequent cold outbreaks, which can lead to increased frost and freeze events.

Soil moisture helps insulate soil from extreme temperature changes, so Georgia's currently dry soils may experience more extreme temperature changes in farmers' fields and could result in increased damage to plants.

If you would like more information or would like to report drought impacts in your county, please contact me at, (706) 542-6067 or pknox@uga.edu.