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Flash Drought Across The South Deepens As Heat Continues

Sprinklers spray water on plants at Green Valley Farms, a commercial nursery in Montevallo, Ala., last month. Weeks of dry, hot weather across the Deep South have worsened a drought that has hit a number of states, including Georgia.
Sprinklers spray water on plants at Green Valley Farms, a commercial nursery in Montevallo, Ala., last month. Weeks of dry, hot weather across the Deep South have worsened a drought that has hit a number of states, including Georgia.
Credit Jay Reeves / Associated Press
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An intense, quickly-developing drought has spread across Southeastern states, including most of Georgia. The dry conditions in the state are already affecting agriculture; it’s been bad news for peanut farmers and for people who raise livestock.

The lack of rain and high temperatures have been noticeable in metro Atlanta, too, where there were 20 consecutive days without measurable rainfall in September.

“Rain kept up pretty decently up through June or maybe into mid-summer, and then rain stopped pretty dramatically for the latter half of the summer,” said Ben Emanuel, director of clean water supply at the Atlanta office of the advocacy group American Rivers. “And along with that we’ve seen these very hot temperatures exacerbating the effects of the lack of rainfall throughout the state.”

It was the second warmest September on record in Atlanta, with 16 days above 95 degrees. Ten days in Atlanta broke highest maximum temperature records. Macon had its driest September on record.

Last week, the city of Griffin got permission from the state of Georgia to declare a level 1 drought, since it relies on a smaller reservoir. That means it’s letting the public know about the dry conditions, and its decision could also affect other water systems that buy water from Griffin, including Spalding, Coweta and Butts Counties.

Most of metro Atlanta relies on Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River for water. Lanier is a few feet below full pool now and is dropping. Katherine Zitsch, director of the Metro North Georgia Water Planning District, said a lot will depend on the winter months, and if they bring rain to recharge reservoirs.

“Are we going to get those rains in December and January and February that will help fill up Lake Lanier before we go into the 2020 summer, or will rains in the winter be lower than normal,” she said. “We always need to be thinking about how we’re using our water supply, because we never know if it’s a one-month drought, a two-month drought, or a three year drought.”

She said for now, people should try to be conscientious about water use, especially when watering their lawns.

“We don’t need to be watering every day. We don’t need to be watering excessively,” she said. “Just really monitor that you’re using water wisely, because if we are in a multi-year drought, we will wish that we had that water back.”

October is typically the driest month in Atlanta, and also the beginning of the wildfire season in Georgia.