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Wet May brings different set of problems to midstate

After struggling with drought conditions for years, Middle Georgians are finding that even with rainfall, there can be too much of a good thing.

The almost daily deluges the past couple of weeks have made for one of the wettest Mays on record for the Macon area. As a result, farmers can’t get in their soggy fields to plant or tend crops. It’s a challenge for homeowners to mow their lawns. Some building and road construction projects have slowed to a near halt.

"You sort of hate to look a gift horse in the mouth," said state climatologist David Stooksbury. “Considering what we’ve been through droughtwise, I think we’d prefer to be dealing with these sort of impacts.”

As of midnight Tuesday, Middle Georgia Regional Airport had recorded more than 5 inches of rain during the past 30 days. Many midstate residents with backyard rain gauges would say that total is on the conservative side.

The 90-day total, according to the National Weather Service, has topped 20 inches, about 185 percent of normal rainfall for the period.

The two biggest areas of short-term concern are with agriculture and delays in construction, Stooksbury said. Rain and wet fields have stopped peanut, cotton and soybean planting in Georgia, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. With farmers facing a planting deadline of Sunday to qualify for crop insurance, the Georgia Peanut Commission said Wednesday that it has asked for a 10-day extension.

The rains forced area strawberry farms to end their picking season early. Rows are too boggy to spray for insects and disease, and ripe berries are wasting away under inches of water.

“They were just as sweet as they’ve ever been, and there were plenty of them,” said Duke Lane Jr., president of Lane Packing Co. in Fort Valley. “It’s so wet and soupy, it’s not farmer-friendly, so to speak. The strawberries are practically underwater.

“At least we were able to get 85 to 90 percent of the picking in before we started having these monsoon-type rains. I don’t ever remember having this much rain other than in ’94 when we had the flood.”

The farm’s peach orchards, Lane said, should be unaffected.

The wet weather has spawned an earlier-than-usual and more abundant appearance of pesky diseases and insects, said Naomi Davis, farm manager for Davis Farms in Roberta.

Davis said she’s spotted two fungal diseases — powdery mildew and downy mildew — that attack vining families of vegetables such as squash and cucumbers.

“We usually don’t see it until July,” said Davis. “It stunts the growth and reduces the yield. ... Your backyard gardeners will probably be seeing this. It looks like someone has put some baby powder on the leaves.”

Davis expects to see more Japanese and potato beetles, who like to feast on crops. In the meantime, she’s already seeing another familiar pest on the move with the increased rainfall.

“It brings the fire ants out. If the queen is threatened with drowning, they move to build new mounds. It has increased the number of fire ants we’re seeing.”

HERE COME THE MOSQUITOES

The recent downpours don’t automatically mean more mosquitoes, but they certainly don’t help matters.

“Rain can do good things and it can do bad things,” University of Georgia veterinary entomologist Nancy C. Hinkle said. “It creates more water, so you have more pools of water. But also, in those areas that were stagnant, it has scoured them out and rinsed them out and gotten rid of the mosquitoes that were in those pools.”

That said, with all the extra moisture in many parts of Georgia, mosquito experts are expecting the buzzing bloodsuckers to thrive this summer. Perhaps more than in recent hot seasons.

“They’re gonna be bad,” said Elmer Gray, a UGA public health extension specialist. “The rain flushes out storm drains, and the mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus, it keeps those down. But south Georgia has been inundated with mosquito populations this spring like they haven’t been familiar with in a while.”

The rain has taken a toll on school construction in Houston and Peach counties, officials said. It’s also had minor impact on Bibb County school construction.

Dave McMahan, facilities director for the Houston County Board of Education, said Wednesday that the $52 million Veterans High School being built off Moody Road is still on schedule for its projected opening at the start of the 2010-11 school year.

“The rain has been more of a nuisance than anything,” McMahan said.

C.B. Mathis, facilities director for the Peach County Board of Education, said the recent wet weather has set back construction five days on elementary schools being built on U.S. 341 north of Fort Valley and on Kay Road south of Byron.

Construction began this past fall, and Mathis said he anticipates being on schedule for a January 2010 opening for the two schools.

In Bibb, the only area impacted by the downpours has been installation of athletic sfields and some landscaping projects at the new Central and Southwest high schools, said Bob Flowers, administrator of the system’s capital program.

Bibb is rebuilding the two high schools and building a new Early Childhood Center, as well as renovating Ingram-Pye Elementary. All schools open this coming school year.

“We had only a minor impact due to the rain, since our projects are all in the finishing stages,” Flowers said. “We still anticipate completing all projects on schedule.”

The almost daily downpours have had homeowners and landscapers eyeing the weather forecast, watching for a few hours of sunshine to mow lawns.

“It’s a mixed blessing,” said Robert Grissett, president of All Season Lawn Care in Macon. “With all the rain, the grass is growing, and so are the weeds, but you can’t get to them. I can’t get to clients’ yards.”

Even when there is a break in the weather, conditions are less than favorable. “We’re leaving tracks in the yards,” Grissett said. “It’s just not our best work. There have been some challenges for us.”

For roofers, soggy days have meant lots of tarps on houses. But they find ways to adapt.

“It’s been a challenge,” said Teresa Meeks, who works for Pittman Waller Roofing Co. in Macon. “We shift what we can when it rains.”

That can mean tackling out-of-town jobs where the forecast is more favorable, for example.

“When we get a clear day,” Meeks said, “we jump right in.”

The abundant rainfall brings a long-term concern that could bring even more severe consequences, said Stooksbury, the state climatologist.

“After all those years (in a drought), it’s kind of nice going into June with wet soil, but there’s increased risk of flooding should we start getting some tropical systems in here,” he said.

“The streams are up. The soils basically are not going to be able to absorb much moisture.”

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623. Staff writers Joe Kovac Jr., Julie Hubbard, Jake Jacobs and Oby Brown contributed to this report.

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