Whether or not it turns out to be a “million dollar rain” remains to be seen, but the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee that swept through some parts of the lower Southeast during the first part of September spelled sweet relief for many growers.

The region-wide downpour dumped as much as 8 inches of rain in parts of Alabama during and following the Labor Day weekend, salvaging some crops from one of the hottest months of August on record.

But some parts of the state, including the Wiregrass region in southeast Alabama, didn’t see enough rain from the storm to relieve drought conditions. Parts of Georgia also were not as fortunate.

Officials with the National Weather Service reported that only 1 inch or less of rain was recorded in Houston and Henry counties in the southeast corner of Alabama.

The storm took a crooked path through the state, almost skipping some areas altogether while dumping several inches of rain in others.

But for most of Alabama, Lee helped to end a hot, dry summer on a wet note, causing flash flooding and closing roads in some places, especially in the north-central part of the state.

Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan said rain soaked much of the state, but it didn't appear to be enough to pull some of the Wiregrass area out of the drought.

“Houston and Henry counties were terribly dry,” McMillan said.

While the moisture was needed, McMillan said the heavy rains could complicate the job facing farmers during the upcoming harvest.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Tropical Storm Lee brought beneficial rains to the Gulf Coast and Southeast before hooking up with a cold front from the west that brought heavy rainfall up and down the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to southern Pennsylvania.

Soaking rains on the order of 4 to 8 inches or more fell across a good portion of the Southeast region bringing improvement to drought-stricken areas in eastern Kentucky, western North Carolina, southern, western and northern Virginia, West Virginia’s southern, eastern and Panhandle regions, western Maryland, Pennsylvania and western/upper New York.

The rains of Lee served as a balancing act of sorts for these regions in general as the heaviest rains from Hurricane Irene fell mostly to the east of Lee’s rains in and around the coastal areas, according to the Drought Monitor.

South Carolina, however, missed out on the tropical moisture leading to worsening of conditions along the Georgia border and within the Savannah River Basin region.

The past two to four months have been extremely dry and impacts were being reported in alfalfa and pasture conditions, along with stock ponds going dry.

South Carolina still dry

According to the USDA, nearly 70 percent of South Carolina’s topsoil condition was at the “short” or “very short” level and 45 percent of pasture and range land was still in the “poor” or “very poor” condition categorization.

The tropical storm made a major mark from eastern Louisiana across Mississippi and into western/northern Alabama and northern Georgia.

Much of southeastern Louisiana, Mississippi and western Alabama were drought free following the remnants of the storm.

Rainfall totals frequented 5 inches or more in many of these areas and led to some improvement in western and northern Louisiana.

Western Alabama and northern Georgia also saw marked improvement in dry conditions. However, drought conditions remain intact across eastern Alabama, Georgia and parts of the Florida Panhandle.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, the summer of 2011 is going down in the record books as one of the hottest on record for the state. Atmospheric scientists, climatologists and meteorologists define summer as the months of June, July and August.

Based on the average mean temperature, Alma, Athens, Augusta, Columbus and Savannah, as well as Tallahassee, Fla., all experienced the hottest summer on record, says State Climatologist David Stooksbury.

Atmospheric scientists define the “mean” temperature as high temperature plus the low temperature for a day divided by two. For example, if the high temperature was 90 degrees F. and the low temperature was 70 degrees F., the mean temperature for a day would be 80 degrees F.

The second hottest summer on record was experienced in Macon and Chattanooga, Tenn., while Atlanta experienced the third-warmest summer.

Other than the average mean temperature, average high temperature or the average low temperature can also be used to gauge the heat of summertime.

Temperatures and rainfall rankings for Georgia and its border cities with at least 60 years of climatological data shows that all locations were ranked in the top three summers for temperature using average mean or average high temperatures.

Precipitation rankings ranged from the driest on record at Tallahassee to the 26th driest at Columbus, Ga.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last month designated 150 counties in Georgia as primary natural disaster areas due to an ongoing drought and excessive heat that has damaged thousands of acres of crops. 

“Many producers have lost their crops and ultimately their livelihood due to the devastation caused by the drought,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The drought — which began April 15, 2011, and continues — caused 30 percent or more loss of forage crops, pasture, grain crops, cotton, peanuts and tobacco in designated counties.

This declaration makes all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low-interest emergency (EM) loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), 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.

FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability.

phollis@farmpress.com