Georgia leaders lifting prayers to the heavens as drought worsens

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows conditions in Georgia as of Oct. 18, 2016.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows conditions in Georgia as of Oct. 18, 2016. Macon

With no promise of rain and worsening drought, Georgia leaders are holding a Pray for Rain event next week.

Drought conditions are worsening across the state, with extreme dry areas now stretching all the way into Middle Georgia.

State climatologist Bill Murphey said parts of Georgia have been in agricultural drought with low soil moisture for half the year.

Now, the prolonged dryness is affecting streams and reservoirs.

“It’s a big deal,” Murphey said. “It’s not 2007 yet, but it seems to be trying to head that way.”

Only the southeastern third of the state, stretching from Augusta to the southwest border and east to the coast, is without drought conditions.

Most of those counties saw rain from Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Hermine in recent weeks.

Dry conditions are measured in five increments, ranging from abnormally dry, or D0; to moderate drought, D1; severe drought, D2; extreme drought, D3, and D4, or exceptional drought, which is the worst.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday shows D3 or extreme drought for most of Bibb, Houston, Peach, Twiggs and Baldwin counties and all of Jones County.

The same is true for half of Wilkinson and portions of Macon, Dooly, Crisp and Sumter counties.

Macon is nearly a foot of rain below normal since Jan. 1, with a deficit of 11.3 inches as of Tuesday.

Northwest counties in Georgia are seeing shortfalls of up to 16 inches, Murphey said.

Exceptional drought conditions are expanding in the northern third of Georgia, extending now as far south as Putnam County, which is in D4 in the northwest corner of the county. Neighboring Jasper County also shows exceptional drought in all but the extreme southern border, which is in extreme drought.

Butts, Henry and Spalding counties are in that swath of exceptional drought that continues to the western border and has staked a hold on the extreme northwest corner of Georgia.

With two-thirds of the state suffering dry conditions, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, are calling on Georgians to pray for rain at a rally Monday in Lavonia.

From 9-10:15 a.m., people will gather at 1269 E. Main St. to discuss the conditions plaguing farmers and growers and pray for rain.

Not a drop is in the forecast through next week.

Cities such as Atlanta, Athens, Columbus and Macon are expecting near record high temperatures for the last weekend in October, with temperatures in the mid-80s.

A La Nina pattern is shaping up, which typically means drier conditions for the Southeast, Murphey said.

October, November and December are normally dry and rain is scarce, he said.

“On the near horizon, I don’t see anything heading into the first week of November,” he said. “In this pattern is when things get really bad, unless you get prolonged rain or a stalled system.”

Liz Fabian: 478-744-4303, @liz_lines