Though the start of spring is still more than a month away, the spring-like conditions that have sprung in the area may be here to stay.
Not only did Georgia’s most famous groundhog, Gen. Beauregard Lee predict an early spring Thursday morning when he failed to see his shadow, forecasters at the National Weather Service center in Charleston, S.C., also expect to round out the winter season with warmer temperatures.
The groundhog’s caretakers at the Yellow River Game Ranch in Lilburn say Beau has a 94 percent accuracy rating, giving him a better record than Punxsutawney Phil, his famous Pennsylvania counterpart.
Phil, by the way, called for six more weeks of winter.
Forecaster Julie Packett said the National Weather Service doesn’t factor Beau’s traditional prediction into their forecasts, but she said based on NWS data, he could be right about spring.
“We could still have some colder days in the mix, but right now it looks like it’s going to be pretty warm towards the end of our winter months,” Packett said.
Normal high temperatures for the Savannah in January are around 60 degrees, Packett said. This year’s overall average high temperature in January was around 66 degrees, she said, and noted there were 13 days that were 70 degrees or above for that month.
“It was not record breaking by any means, but definitely still warm,” she said.
Packett said January also was a pretty dry month for the Savannah area, with only 1.45 inches of rain reported at the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, which puts the area 2.24 inches below normal. She said these dry drought-like conditions will likely continue.
“It looks like drought conditions are going to persist,” she said. “We need to see quite a bit of rainfall to help with the overall drought conditions.”
And drought-like conditions don’t bode well for upcoming planting seasons. Former Bryan County extension agent Don Gardner said farmers should be very cautious of the dry weather conditions.
“(They should) know their fields and check their soil moisture and make sure that’s where it needs to be before they put a plow in the ground,” Garnder said.
Although prices for cotton, peanuts and corn are “looking very good,” Gardner said that doesn’t do any good for farmers who don’t have enough water.
“If you’re in agriculture and you have an irrigated field, you’re in good shape,” Gardner said. “Dry land farmers will have a difficult time.”
Another thing for farmers to be cautious of is increased insect populations, Gardner said. Bugs like leaf hoppers, beetles and caterpillars that assault food crops will be more prevalent this year, he said.
“Because we are warmer than normal, a lot of the insects that normally have a winter kill haven’t and we will have an increased population,” he said.
Gardner said he encourages farmers to “pray for rain” and monitor groundwater levels in fields carefully.
The dryer and warmer conditions are also associated with the weather pattern La Nina, Packett said. According to the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center website, La Nina typically develops between March and June, and reaches peak intensity between December and April.
Most of southern Georgia is in an “exceptional” or “extreme” drought state, Packett said. And although it is hard to predict, she said the summer months could be hotter if this weather trend continues.
For up-to-date weather information, visit http://www.erh.noaa.gov/chs/.