Drought returns for much of Georgia, but Atlanta immune so far

It's been a series of extremes for the state's climate.

Last March, a record-setting, three-year drought finally ended, thanks to an abnormally wet Winter that persisted through much of the year. But state climatologist David Stooksbury warned Wednesday that drought conditions have returned to north central, west central and southwest Georgia -- and the forecast for 2011 is not promising.

"For the past three months, counties now in mild drought have received between 50 percent and 75 percent of normal rainfall," Stooksbury said. "Temperatures across the state have been above normal this summer, increasing water loss from the soils by evaporation and plant water use."

Much of the state is currently abnormally dry, Stooksbury said. Affected counties include Paulding, Cobb, central Fulton, Forsyth, Dawson, Lumpkin, Union, Rabun, Stephens, Banks, Franklin, Hart, Madison, Clarke, Oglethorpe and Elbert.

Atlanta is an exception. So far the city has received 105 percent of its normal rainfall over the past month. Another is Macon, which has received 181 percent of normal rain over the past month.

On the opposite end, mild drought conditions exist in in the west central and southwest Georgia counties of Harris, Muscogee, Chattahoochee, Stewart, Quitman, Randolph, Clay, Calhoun, Early, Miller, Seminole, Decatur, Grady, Thomas and Brooks.

Stooksbury expects conditions to worsen.

"With temperatures remaining in the 90s and low 100s with little or no rain, soils statewide will continue to dry," he said. "This will lead to increased plant stress. Soil moisture and stream flows will continue to decline."

It may be time to pray for a tropical storm or hurricane, with a dry winter -- prompted by the  return of a La Niña pattern -- forecast, Stooksbury said.

"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," he said. "This increases the probability of widespread and significant drought for next year."