Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Drought Enters Fifth Year; Savannah Rain Deficit State's Worst Farms Suffer, Fires Pick Up

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Drought Enters Fifth Year; Savannah Rain Deficit State's Worst Farms Suffer, Fires Pick Up

Article excerpt

Byline: Brian Basinger, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- Another year, another Dust Bowl? No, it's not that bad yet, say climatologists. But as 2001 becomes a memory, Georgia's still-unquenched drought enters its fifth calendar year today -- and it doesn't show signs of stopping any time soon.

Savannah had the largest rain deficit of any major city in Georgia during 2001, ending up with nearly 17 inches less than it usually sees over the course of the year.

Similarly, Atlanta posted a deficit of more than 12 inches, while Augusta fell almost 11 inches short of its average.

Only Athens had a deficit of less than 10 inches, but the situation was really worse than it appeared in the Classic City, state climatologist David Stooksbury said.

"That's a little deceptive because [Athens] had over 7 inches of rain in a two-day period,'' he said. "Most of that fell in a six-hour period.''

Consequently, once the Athens soil was saturated from that mid-summer gully-washer, much of the rain ran off downstream instead of soaking in.

"It's most definitely not a short-term drought,'' said Stooksbury, who works out of the engineering department at the University of Georgia. "We're talking about some pretty impressive numbers.''

Waterways across the state posted record low-flow numbers during December, including the Oconee, Little and Altamaha rivers.

The lack of rain not only damaged the agricultural crop -- one of Georgia's top moneymakers -- but also tripled the number of forest fires in the state this fall.

In November, Georgia usually records about 570 fires. In 2001, however, there were nearly 1,800.

On some fall days, hikers on Stone Mountain, located 10 miles east of Atlanta, could see more than a dozen fires burning around the metro area.

"We had more fires than we could handle,'' said Daniel Chan, a meteorologist for the Georgia Forestry Commission.

The situation is growing even more dire now as the first weeks of winter tick by without any major wet spells. …

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