Soil moisture ratings in the lower Southeast, including Alabama, Georgia and Florida, were mostly in the adequate range heading into the meat of the planting season for cotton and peanuts.

But with the extreme heat and drought of 2010 still fresh in their minds, growers are worried that a fast start in the spring might be followed by drier weather in the summer and fall.

Corn planting was progressing on schedule by mid-April, and cotton producers were waiting for the soils to warm before beginning.

According to the Southeast Climate Consortium (SECC) — an organization comprised of weather experts at eight Southeastern universities — heavy rains in early spring helped to improve drought conditions in the region.

The last week of March, says the SECC, brought an active weather pattern across the Southeast U.S., characterized by an energetic jet stream with frequent low pressure systems moving across the northern Gulf of Mexico.

A slow moving cold front swept across the Southeast in late March, covering north Georgia and northeast Alabama with 1 to 3 inches of rainfall. The system stalled across central Florida and the associated squall line dumped a widespread 1 to 3 inches from Ocala, Fla., southward through Palm Beach County, with a heavier swath of 2 to 4 inches north of the Tampa area.

The recent heavy rains across the Southeast have gone a long way towards recharging soil moisture and replenishing lakes and rivers, states the SECC. “The timing of the recent rainfall was very advantageous, as drought had been intensifying over the Southeast and looked likely to worsen as we enter the spring dry seasons. The recharge provides a bit of a buffer against the onset of spring dryness and decreases the risk of more extreme drought developing.”