This weekend, Carroll County farmers are looking toward the upcoming Monday rain forecast with great anticipation. They hope it could mean the end to nearly a month without appreciable precipitation and make a dent into the largest drought in five years.
But the deputy state climatologist said west Georgians will probably continue singing the rainless blues for the next few months.
“I wish I could say the outlook was good,” Nyasha Dunkley said Friday. “There is some chance of rain on Monday, but nothing substantial. It’s not going to be a drought buster.”
She said NOAA forecasts indicate that the drought is going to continue at least the next three months, with little improvement.
Fall tropical rains ended extreme dryness in most parts of the south, but Carroll County remains in the center of a drought band that stretches from eastern Alabama through metro Atlanta. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows most of Carroll County in the severe level, with the southeastern tip of the county in the extreme level, with a small part in the highest level, exceptional.
Carroll County Extension Coordinator Paula Burke said the last rainfall recorded on the Ag Center’s rain gauge was 0.42 inches on Nov. 13.
She said the drought is having a major effect on county cattle ranchers who need rain for pasture growth.
“The rain that would have grown cool season grasses hasn’t happened,” Burke said. “They’re starting to get concerned now about what the spring fescue crop will be like. The bottom line is we need rain.”
If the drought continues into next spring, she said ranchers will have to buy more feed, which will increase costs. Many may have to start selling off their herds, she added.
The drought has dropped local water system reservoir levels by large amounts, but officials say the water supply in not yet in any danger.
The Carrollton water treatment plant rain gauge shows that 33.65 inches of rain have fallen so far this year, with three weeks remaining. That’s down substantially from 46.89 inches last year and 45.98 inches in 2010. However, it’s slightly above the 31.6 inches recorded in the 2007 drought year.
“Water level at the reservoir is on the low side, but nothing like 2007,” said Connie Nelms, water treatment plant supervisor. “Buckhorn Lake is down about 33 inches, but we haven’t pulled from Lake Carroll at all this year.”
Matt Windom, Carroll County Water Authority executive director, reports a similar situation at the Snake Creek reservoir.
“The lake level is down about eight feet below normal pool,” Windom said Friday. “It’s been continuing to drop the last couple of months, but it has slowed since summer.” He said the current level is about two feet below the 2007 low point.
The rain gauge at the reservoir has recorded about 37 inches of rainfall so far this year, he noted.
“We still have a large supply of water, slightly over two billion gallons, about a year’s supply,” Windom said. “We were hoping to have additional rainfall at this point, but we’ll just continue to watch and monitor.”
Windom said although November and December have been drier months than usual, he’s hoping the winter will bring more rain.
“The next three months may be a good indication of how next year will be,” he said.
Dunkley said droughts are “relatively normal,” but the current one has been a long one.
“The tropical systems didn’t affect us as much as they could have, for a variety of reasons,” she said. “The El Nino that was expected to occur, didn’t happen and that takes away some of the precipitation we may have gotten.”
But Carroll County is not suffering alone in Georgia, Dunkely noted. The middle part of the state remains locked in a wide band of exceptional drought that shows little sign of ending soon.