Heavy rains early last week failed to pull many Middle Georgia counties out of exceptional drought, the worst category as defined by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
But it did shrink the area considered to be in severe drought, state climatologist Bill Murphey said.
South Bibb County as well as Houston, Twiggs, Baldwin, Macon, Peach, and portions of Jones, Putnam, Wilkinson and Washington counties remain in exceptional drought, Murphey said. Bleckley and Monroe counties were among those that saw some improvement as a result of last weeks rains.
We were lucky with that system that we didnt see the flooding rainfall they got in Pensacola and Mobile, Murphey said. We got good soaking rains.
For now, drought conditions are expected to persist in the middle and southwest of the state, and temperatures are likely to be hotter than usual this summer, he said.
Both the past year and the past six months have featured the hottest average high temperatures in 120 years of record-keeping, Murphey said. (The average high for the past 365 days ties for first place with the same 12-month periods starting in 1954 and 1973.)
During the past six months -- including most of the winter -- the average daily high in Macon was 74.6 degrees, which is 4.6 degrees above the norm, he said. That span included a hot May, when average temperatures were a couple of degrees above normal.
However, June has so far offered a brief respite, with the average temperature about 2.7 degrees below normal, Murphey said. In fact, Sunday set a record low of 56 degrees in Macon, compared with the average low of 68 degrees.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the portion of the Southeast in exceptional drought dropped by half during the past week, from 6 percent to 3 percent.
Murphey said the rainfall predictions for the rest of the summer are hard to make because an El Niño weather pattern may be developing that could reduce the number of tropical storms that bring most of Middle Georgias significant rainfall in the late summer and early fall.
Macon has received 31.83 inches of rain in the past 12 months, which is 13.34 inches below normal, Murphey said. Most of that deficit built up during the winter, a time when Middle Georgias rivers and aquifers normally refill. Instead, a La Niña weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean caused the winter to be drier and warmer than usual.
Recent rainfall levels have been closer to normal. During the past 30 days, Macon received a little more than 3 inches of rain, not even half an inch below normal, Murphey said.
As a result of the rain deficit, about 70 percent of stream gauges are below normal, and about 45 percent are much below normal, especially along the Fall Line area and southwest Georgia, Murphey said.
Ground water levels are much below normal or low around Warner Robins, Cochran and Wrightsville, he said.
The moderate hydrologic drought, which refers to ground and surface water levels and tends to affect farmers most, may improve once recent rainfall filters through watersheds, Murphey said. But anticipated increasing temperatures may counteract that by causing more evaporation.
In the short term, there was definitely some improvement, Murphey said. But in the long-term, its hard to say how much.
The counties of Bibb, Houston, Peach, Crawford, Twiggs, Bleckley, Laurens, Pulaski, Dodge, Wilcox and Wilkinson are experiencing this moderate hydrologic drought, along with significant portions of Monroe, Jones, Washington and Baldwin, he said.
The reservoir that provides Macons water supply is about 4 feet below full pool, which is normal or better than normal, Macon Water Authority Director Tony Rojas said. Although Macon is experiencing an exceptional drought, the area still has received sporadic rain often enough that the authority hasnt seen the residential water demands it did last May and June, he said.
Based on state law, outdoor watering of plants is not allowed between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. In addition, other outdoor water use, such as car washing, is limited to certain days of the week based on whether the street address is an odd or even number.
Murphey said Middle Georgia is unlikely to see much rain this week. Temperatures are expected to remain in the upper 80s until the end of the week, when they are likely to crank into the 90s or even hotter, he said.
To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.