Seasonal rains finally began making their way into the Southeast in late July, but they didn’t do much to improve the long-term drought problems in the region, according to the final report of July from the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Stream flows and deep soil moisture were lower than at the same time last year, even with more precipitation being recorded. An area of severe drought was expanded in the northwest and southeast portions of Alabama in late July because of continued record or near-record low stream flows.
In Georgia, exceptional drought returned to the northeast portion of the state and continuing dry weather spread drought conditions to the southeast, according to David Stooksbury, state climatologist.
Although scattered thunderstorms brought some relief to drought-parched Georgia during July, allowing plants to show some recovery, the relief was localized, he says, and the rains were not enough to halt dropping stream flows across most of the state.
Many streams are at or near record low flows for late July, says Stooksbury.
“Exceptional drought conditions now are occurring north and east of a line from Wilkes to Oglethorpe to Clarke to Jackson to Hall to Lumpkin to Union counties, inclusive. This includes 16 counties in northeast Georgia,” he says.
“Exceptional” is the worst drought designation used by the U.S. Drought Monitor. During exceptional drought, many of the drought indicators are at levels seen only once in 50 to 100 years.
Extreme drought conditions remain in 13 counties of north Georgia: Fannin, Gilmer, Dawson, Forsyth, Gwinnett, Barrow, Walton, Oconee, Morgan, Greene, Taliaferro, Wilkes and Lincoln.
Severe drought conditions exist north and west of a line from Echols to Lanier to Berrien to Irwin to Ben Hill to Wilcox to Pulaski to Bleckley to Twiggs to Wilkinson to Washington to Jefferson to Burke counties, inclusive. This includes 96 of the 159 counties in Georgia.
Across northeast and southwest Georgia, almost all streams are at or near record low flows for late July, says Stooksbury.
“Many streams are below the 7Q10 level of flow. The seven refers to the seven-day stream flow, the ‘Q’ is quantity and the 10 refers to 10 years,” he explains. “Thus, the current 7Q10 level is the lowest consecutive seven-day stream flow expected to occur once in 10 years.”
When stream flows fall below the 7Q10 value, there are concerns about environmental quality and a stream’s health, he adds. It is very common that stream withdrawal and discharge permits are based on 7Q10.
Farm ponds, especially ones not fed by springs, also are showing the lack of rain, he says. “Many ponds didn’t receive adequate recharge during the winter and entered the summer low. Beef and dairy farmers are now rotating cattle from pasture to pasture not only to protect pastures but also to manage their cattle drinking water supply,” says Stooksbury.
Through October, Georgia’s best chance for widespread drought relief will be tropical disturbances, he says.