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More rain still needed to drop drought status in midstate

Middle Georgia remains on the borderline of a moderate drought despite heavy rains in recent days. But state climatologists are “cautiously optimistic” about the prospects for leaving the historic drought behind this year, said Pam Knox, Georgia’s assistant state climatologist.

“We’re right at the end of the winter recharge period,” said Knox, who works for the University of Georgia. Usually, whatever rain falls after April is slurped up by plants or evaporates in the heat. “What that means is: Whatever we’ve already received for the winter is what we’ve got in our bank account for summer,” Knox said.

If rainfall of about an inch a week continues, Macon will be in good shape, she said. If the spigot turns off again, the area could slip back into drought.

State climatologist David Stooksbury announced Monday that the Atlanta area, while still abnormally dry, no longer suffers from drought. Knox said north Georgia is now in good shape except for the Lanier basin. But south Georgia, which fared better last summer, is now drying out.

Heavy rains in March have helped the Macon area make up its year-to-year rain deficit, National Weather Service records show. Macon received 7.78 inches of rain last month, more than the March rainfall of the previous three years combined, Knox said.

“But groundwater levels near Macon are still much below the norm,” she said. “It may take months of above-normal rainfall for that to return.”

Knox said global weather conditions this year are being affected by cooler sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, sometimes called a “La Niña” pattern. In Georgia, this generally means wetter weather in the north and drier weather in the south, she said. La Niñas often correlate with a greater number of tropical storms, but there’s no guarantee those will cross Georgia, she added. Generally, about 40 percent of the state’s summer rainfall comes from tropical systems, Knox said.

Although Atlanta is not in a drought, it still has a slim water supply because Lake Lanier remains at least 9 feet below full pool. Knox emphasized that drought is based on rainfall, not the water resources available to serve a large human population.

In Macon, the drinking water supply is in better shape. Tony Rojas, director of the Macon Water Authority, said Javors Lucas Lake has been full since at least January, and the authority pumps water daily from the Ocmulgee River to replace whatever water is consumed from the reservoir.

Outdoor watering is allowed in Macon at even addresses Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and at odd addresses Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, except between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. In most of Middle Georgia, the same daily schedule applies, but watering is permitted only between midnight and 10 a.m.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.

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