A100-year drought that has plagued parts of the Southeast throughout the year appears poised to continue into the fall and winter months.
While this forecast bodes well for farmers who are harvesting peanuts, cotton and soybeans and planting small grains, it doesn't help a region where water supplies have become critically low.
The drought is most severe in Alabama, north Georgia and portions of Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina. What is classified as D4 or exceptional drought — the most severe category — has expanded to cover about 73 percent of Alabama, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor's mid-October report.
John Christy, Alabama's state climatologist, says the western boundary of the area classified as being in an exceptional drought has been expanded to add much of about a dozen different counties in the state. The long-term forecast for December, January and February calls for drier-than-normal conditions, says Christy, meaning there is no end in sight to the drought.
“Let's hope this forecast doesn't materialize,” says Christy. More than half of Alabama's citizens, he says, are under some sort of voluntary water restrictions. The long-range forecast for a dry winter is especially troubling, he adds, because the winter rains help to replenish the water supply for next year.
“That's the time when we need it, because the trees are not using water, and the sun is very low, so the deep soil doesn't have any competition. The rain can soak down into that deep soil and recharge the water table and the river basins,” says Christy.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor report, isolated storms brought relief to a relatively few areas in the Southeast, but none were enough to improve the drought situation. “Many locations continue to build up their year-to-date deficits in what is turning out to be one of the driest years on record in many locales. The areas of most notable drought expansion include Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina, with more subtle deterioration noted in Tennessee and Virginia,” according to the report.
In North Carolina, the governor has issued a statewide ban on burning and has asked citizens there to stop non-essential water use as several communities have only a few months of water supply remaining. This is also the case in some locations in north Georgia, where the governor has asked citizens to voluntarily find other ways to conserve water besides the usual outdoor watering restrictions in place.