December rain helps but drought persists

lfabian@macon.comDecember 31, 2012 

Nearly 5 inches of rain sloshed into Macon’s rain gauge for December -- only a drop in the bucket that was lacking more than a foot of normal rainfall for 2012.

The next Drought Monitor, which will be published Thursday using statistics compiled through Tuesday, is expected to show some easing of Georgia’s drought.

“Things are looking a little bit better, as of lately especially,” said Bill Murphey, Georgia’s climatologist.

As of Dec. 25, Georgia’s drought had its strongest hold in the midstate, where a stretch from Sumter to Greene counties is in exceptional drought. Another exceptional patch is noted from Troup to Douglas counties.

The southeast and northwest corners of the state are faring the best, with only abnormally dry conditions to moderate drought.

While the bulk of recent rains fell in northern Georgia, Macon picked up a surplus of 0.95 of an inch for the final month of 2012.

Atlanta saw 2.14 inches above normal rainfall. Athens picked up 2.25 inches more than December’s average rain.

Even in Middle Georgia, the heavier rains fell in the counties farther north.

“It’s kind of a fine line,” Murphey said. “Jones and Monroe (counties) a little bit north of Bibb received a little more rain.”

Within Bibb County, rainfall also varied, he said.

In the past three months, western Bibb was 4 to 6 inches below normal rainfall, while eastern Bibb saw a deficit of 6 to 8 inches.

During that same 180-day period, Jones and Monroe counties were less than 2 inches below normal, he said.

Looking forward, Murphey sees a 50-50 chance of having greater than normal rainfall in Middle Georgia during the first three months of 2013.

Northwest Georgia is expected to receive the bulk of the state’s rain in this neutral weather pattern. El Niño and La Niña are not currently influencing our weather, he said.

The current drought pattern began in October 2010.

Murphey said the past two years combined have amounted to a Macon deficit of 25.2 inches, which is the second-driest 24-month period on record.

The National Weather Service at Peachtree City focuses on short-term forecasting, but meteorologist Steve Nelson said the National Climate Prediction Center expects the neutral pattern to linger.

But if below-normal rainfall occurs, it will take longer for lakes, streams and rivers to recharge.

“It takes quite a while for that to build back,” Nelson said. “A lot of times that can happen in the winter and summer months. That’s when we get our best rainfall.”

If Georgia does not see adequate rains in the first quarter of 2013, the drought will persist.

About a third of the stream flows are below normal in the southwest corner of Georgia, but most streams near Atlanta are near normal, Murphey said.

Through March 31, the Climate Prediction Center expects drought conditions to improve and effects to ease for the northern two-thirds of Georgia. The drought in southeast Georgia is also expected to show slight improvement.

“I’m hoping this is the beginning of some beneficial recharge,” Murphey said. “It’s been a doozy.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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