Saturday, December 11, 2010

Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia drought conditions retreat for winter

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Hamilton County and other parts of Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia are dry but not in drought conditions, according to a new report.

But drought intensified in other places around both states, the report shows.

The U.S. Drought Monitor report, released Thursday, downgraded Hamilton, Bradley and Catoosa counties, as well as most of Whitfield, Murray and Walker, from "moderate drought" to "abnormally dry" conditions.

But Northwest Tennessee and Southeast Georgia saw drought levels increase from "severe" to "extreme."

Brian Boyd, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tenn., said Chattanooga is still more than 10 inches below normal in rainfall for the year, but conditions have improved because vegetation has gone dormant so plants aren't sucking water out of the soil.

"The rainfall's part of the picture. The rest of the picture is the time of the year," he said. "The leaves are off the trees now, so they're not requiring enough moisture by far."

Over the three-month season, climatologists predict a drier and warmer than normal winter, despite the frigid temperatures this week.

John Clarke, assistant director of the U.S. Geological Survey Georgia Water Sciences Center, said South Georgia is seeing the worst of the drought, but stream flows and groundwater levels have been below normal at a few sites in Northwest Georgia.

In drought, "the groundwater is the last to see it," Clarke said. "When you start seeing it in the groundwater, you know the drought severity has increased."

Historically speaking, the levels are still above where they were in the record-setting drought of 2007 and 2008.

"We're not anywhere near as bad as it was then, but we are dry," Clarke explained.

Because the plants are dormant, Boyd said, the next few months would be a good time to get some rain so the groundwater reserves would be recharged before summer heat returns.

"Timing matters, not just the amount," he said.

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