Drought declaration issued as rain rolls in
by Matt Shinall
Dec 01, 2010 | 1970 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A city of Cartersville street sweeper goes to work on the drains on South Erwin Street where a heavy rain caused temporary flooding.
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Location, location, location was the key to rainfall throughout the Southeastern United States this summer and early fall. Gov. Sonny Perdue announced Monday a disaster declaration for farmers affected by drought conditions just as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association released reports of a record setting hurricane season.

The hit and miss pattern holds true locally on a micro scale of those conditions reported by NOAA as north Georgia agricultural producers were at the whim of sporadic and sometimes dismal rainfall.

Monday's declaration from the U.S. Department of Agriculture including 151 counties across Georgia stated that findings from Assessment Damage Reports showed a 30 percent or greater production loss to a single enterprise due to drought and excessive heat from July 1 to the present. The declaration, authorized by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, allows qualifying farmers in the designated counties access to low-interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency. The eight remaining counties also are included in the declaration by contiguous rule.

"Georgia's economy relies heavily on our agriculture industry," stated Perdue in a Monday press release. "I appreciate Secretary Vilsack's commitment to do everything in our power to assist farmers in counties that have been hit hard by dry weather and extreme heat in the past several months."

Bartow County Extension Agent Greg Bowman commented on the impact local farmers experienced from harsh weather conditions this summer. He compared conditions seen this year to those of drought stricken 2006 and 2007 from which a recovery was just met during last fall's heavy rains.

"We can't control the weather. We might can help the situation when we irrigate but nothing is good as having timely rainfall during the growing season," Bowman said. "It seems that we've been as dry this year as we were when we go back to '07 and '06 when you'd hear about the drought in the media, it was an everyday occurrence.

"When we got into July and got into August and the heat index was easily over 100 every day. It caused a lot of damage."

Bowman added that beyond traditional row crops, many producers experienced severe grazing loss which has lead to earlier consumption of winter inventory while hay yields were low also due to dry conditions. This combination will lead to some livestock producers running low on hay before the winter is out, an added expense which cuts deeply into the bottom line.

Serving Bartow County for emergency farm loans is the FSA Service Center in Calhoun; Executive Director Glenn Forrester Jr., noted that feedback from farmers in the area has varied greatly due to irregular weather patterns.

"From what I've heard, just talking to different producers, we've had yields all over the board. Some folks didn't have hardly a loss at all and some people had a small loss. It just really varied because the rainfall was just so spotty throughout the summer. Just some areas within the county would get a little rainfall at the right time ... therefore they may not have experienced losses like somebody in the northern part of the county who just couldn't get any rainfall," Forrester said.

Georgia's drought declaration was not the only weather announcement Monday as NOAA simultaneously released information on the 2010 hurricane season which ended Tuesday. While the eastern North Pacific -- including America's West Coast -- saw very few storm systems, the Atlantic Basin tallied 19 named storms tying 1887 and 1995 for third highest on record. Twelve hurricanes were produced from those storms reaching the second highest level on record tied with 1969.

NOAA recognized the dry conditions in the Southeast in relation to a high number of storms citing jet stream position and short-term weather patterns. These conditions acted as a "barrier" according to the NOAA press release protecting the east coast keeping most storms over open water.

"As NOAA forecasters predicted, the Atlantic hurricane season was one of the most active on record, though fortunately most storms avoided the U.S. For that reason, you could say the season was a gentle giant," said Jack Hayes, Ph.D., director of NOAA's National Weather Service.

Rainfall however, was in the local forecast recently as some streets experienced slight flooding from Tuesday's heavy rains. A tornado watch was also initiated by The National Weather Service Tuesday for 74 counties throughout Georgia as conditions were determined to be favorable for severe storms to produce tornados.

Although rains are a welcome sight especially at this time of year, forecasters are calling for a dry winter adding stress to next years' crops. Bowman explained how winter months help recover from extreme soil moisture loss during hot summer days.

"We call this our winter recharge time and this is really key because we're not losing soil moisture," Bowman said, adding that summer heat can account for up to an inch of soil moisture loss each day. "If they're calling for a dry winter that will catch us next growing season."

State Climatologist and Professor at the University of Georgia David Stooksbury, presented research in September warning of impacts from a La Niña weather system and the possibility of another deep drought next year.

"The La Niña pattern is associated with dry, warm winters across much of the Southeast. This means that we may have minimal recharge of the hydrologic system this winter. This increases the probability of widespread and significant drought for next year. It is too early to tell exactly how the La Niña pattern will impact Georgia, but we need to be aware of the possible short-term tropical impacts and the long-term drought impacts," Stooksbury said.

For information on emergency loans, contact the Calhoun FSA Service Center at 706-629-2582. For updated information on Georgia drought conditions, visit www.georgiadrought.org.

At the beginning of each year, the UGA Extension Agency hosts the Ag Forecast in various locations across the state. For more information on these upcoming informational sessions, visit www.georgiaagforecast.com.