By Russ Bynum
Associated Press Writer
SAVANNAH — Drought conditions have worsened from severe to extreme in 20 southern Georgia counties, the state climatologist said Tuesday as the South suffers through an unusually dry spring.
Some parts of southern Georgia have rainfall deficits of more than 10 inches for the year. Rivers and streams in the region are showing record-low flows for April, said David Stooksbury, Georgia’s state climatologist.
In 16 counties in southern Georgia and 17 counties in the northwest part of the state the drought is categorized as severe.
Because summer tends to bring less rain than spring, the drought could grow worse in coming months, Stooksbury said.
“If we have normal weather from the remainder of the spring through the summer, conditions will continue to deteriorate,” he said. “This is not a good omen for the remainder of the summer.”
Extreme drought means conditions are so dry that experts anticipate them no more than once every 50 years. The last time parts of Georgia saw such conditions was during the drought that lasted from 1998 to 2002.
The area of extreme drought includes Ware County, where a huge wildfire has burned more than 56,000 acres of tinder-dry forest near Waycross over the past nine days.
Drought conditions are being felt across 41 percent of the southeastern U.S. — mostly in Alabama, Florida and Georgia, said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist for the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The South still hasn’t recovered from an unseasonably dry spring last year, Fuchs said. A quiet hurricane season failed to deliver dousing tropical rains last summer and fall. And winter El Nino conditions in the Gulf of Mexico didn’t produce nearly as much rainfall as expected.
“There was some recovery, but it never recovered completely,” Fuchs said “And now we’re right back to where we were before. And in some cases worse.”
South Carolina is not experiencing a severe drought although some parts of the state should have had 4 inches more rainfall so far this season, said Mark Malsick, severe weather liaison for the state Climatology Office. “Basically, we’re seeing a deficit of water that if dry conditions persist, it could turn into a more serious drought,” he said.
Liberty, Long still ‘severe’
Athens — Another week with little or no rain and temperatures in the 70s and 80s have led to worsening drought conditions statewide, according to state climatologist David Stooksbury.
The counties where the drought was said to be extreme were to the west and south of Liberty. The closest was Wayne. Stooksbury did, however, characterize conditions in Liberty and Long as severe, along with Bryan, Chatham, McIntosh and 10 other area counties.
The rest of south Georgia is experiencing moderate to mild drought conditions.
Drought categories are based on many indicators. Some of these are rainfall over the past one, three, six and 12 months and soil moisture, stream flow and groundwater levels.
Rainfall deficits for Jan. 1 through April 23 include Savannah 6.17 and Brunswick 7.48.