Georgia's coldest winter ever?

If the winter of 2011 doesn't rank as Georgia's coldest on record, it will certainly be remembered as one of the more miserable.

And Georgians may be feelings its effects for months to come, as below-normal precipitation amounts hasten drought conditions for much of the state, according to Pam Knox, Georgia's assistant state climatologist.

"Dry conditions from December continued into January, leading to an increase in the severity and expanse of drought across Georgia," Knox said. "The only area that was above average in rainfall was a small area in far southeast Georgia."

No Georgians were able to avoid this winter's lingering chill. Macon reported a low of 16 degrees on Jan. 14, breaking the old record of 19 degrees set 41 years ago, Knox said. Records were set that day in Savannah and Alma as well, and for the month the average temperatures there were at least four degrees below normal.

The difference wasn't as great in Atlanta, where the average temperature of 40.2 degrees was 2.5 degrees below normal.

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"If colder-than-normal temperatures continue into February, this winter could possibly set records," Knox said.

Of greater concern is the likelihood of another drought.  The last extended dry spell lasted for a record-setting three years, ending in March 2009. The next drought may not be as crippling but appears inevitable.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that pastures remained "very poor to fair" across most of the state, Knox said.

Much of the state was already abnormally dry, though Atlanta, which received normal rainfall amounts for much of the summer of 2010, is an exception, according to the climatologist's office.

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