- By Helena Oliviero The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
After a long spell of rain, we can expect to see drier days on the horizon.
But the impact — and potential dangers — from a long stretch of rain will likely be felt for days, even weeks ahead.
From dangerously higher water levels in lakes, rivers and streams to an influx of mosquitoes, experts say people shouldn’t let their guard down even if the sun is bright and the skies are blue. Authorities have even closed several popular swimming areas at Lake Lanier, and it might be at least a couple of weeks before they reopen.
High water levels and turbulent flows have made it unsafe to swim or boat in the Chattahoochee River, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Recent heavy rains have also raised Lake Lanier over its full pool elevation of 1,071 feet. The corps is now continuously releasing water to lower the lake level, causing a rise in water levels and swift currents in the river downstream.
The corps said it may be unsafe to swim or boat in the Chattahoochee River due to high water levels for up to two weeks or longer. Go to the National Park Service Chattahoochee River web site to check on whether a water safety alert is in place.
Meanwhile at Lake Lanier, the corps has closed most of the designated swim areas it manages due to the agency’s high-water action plan. As of Monday morning, the water levels at Lake Lanier were more than 3 feet above its full pool elevation. The corps has closed 17 of the 18 designated swim areas it manages. The only one that remains open is at the Duckett Mill Campground in Gainesville.
Due to safety concerns, the corps has also made the decision to close the Lower Pool Park, which is located directly below Buford Dam on Lake Lanier. The other areas not allowing swimming are still open to hikers and boaters.
Nicholas Baggett, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers natural resource manager, said it could be another couple of weeks, or even longer, before the swim areas are reopened.
“Our lake level is dependent on a lot of variables, like how much it rains within Lake Lanier’s watershed or if we have flooding downstream. Lake Lanier is part of a long river system going all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, with other corps lakes, locks and dams along the way. How much and when we release is dependent on many factors,” said Baggett.
Even on a day when Lake Lanier’s aqua-blue water is shimmering and calm, Baggett urged extra caution for boaters after a stretch of heavy rains, warning people to keep an eye out for floating debris and other hazards.
Open bodies of water change where debris is floating and areas become deeper. Open bodies of water can have unpredictable and strong currents, and sudden dropoffs, and even experienced swimmers may struggle in the colder water of lakes and rivers.
Last week in Monroe County, emergency responders rescued two teens who were stuck in a fast-moving Georgia river at High Falls State Park in Monroe County. A man drowned at Lake Lanier on Saturday after he and some friends were swimming back to the shore at Lanier Park. And on Monday, authorities continued searching for two teenagers who likely drowned in the waters of a swollen creek in Oconee County last week.
The rain fell day after day in May. Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brian Monahan said there was at least a trace amount of rain at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on 17 of 19 days between May 15 and June 2. That added up to a total of 4.89 inches since May 15. In May, there was a total of 4.45 inches of rain in Atlanta, up from an average 3.67 inches for the month of May.
But some areas in northeast Georgia saw far more rain, with close to 18 inches of rain dumped last week in parts of White County, home to Helen and a swath of the Chattahoochee River.
Getting stuck in a pattern of tropical downpours is not that unusual, according to Monahan, who said we were in what is called a “blocking” pattern where things just didn’t move much in the midlevels of the atmosphere (that steers where rain goes). We got stuck in a persistent southerly wind pattern aloft that brought wave after wave of tropical moisture our way, including Alberto.
The overall wet pattern ended after Sunday afternoon’s storms, and dry air is expected to stick around for most of the week, according to Monahan.
Still, let’s not forget about the mosquitoes.
With May rains drenching much of Georgia, experts say residents need to act now to prevent mosquitoes from taking over this summer.
Rainwater is lurking in every container around our homes and yards, and standing water creates perfect conditions for a bumper crop of mosquitoes. Elmer Gray, a cooperative extension entomologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, expects floodwater mosquitoes to begin emerging in the next week or two.
Removing standing water from potential breeding sites such as garden containers and clogged gutters is key to minimizing mosquitoes, Gray said.
Here are some things to know if you’re headed out to the water:
— Use designated swimming and recreational areas whenever possible. Professionals have assessed the area, and there are usually signs posted regarding hazards and lifeguard schedules.
— Teach your child that swimming in open water is different from swimming in a pool. Make sure they are aware of challenges such as limited visibility, currents and undertow.
— Designate a “water watcher.” This person should not be reading or texting. They should never take their eyes off the children. Adults should take turns and have a designated person watching at all times.
— Drowning can happen quickly and quietly. You might expect a drowning person to splash or yell for help. Sometimes, people quietly slip beneath the water.
— Use a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket in and around open water. Get a life jacket (also called a personal flotation device or PFD) that is appropriate for a person’s weight.
WSB’s Severe Weather Team 2 is calling for mostly sunny skies this week, with scattered storms this weekend in its seven-day forecast. To keep up with changes from day to day, go to wsbtv.com/weather or watch Channel 2 Action News.