Metro Atlantans are used to “Spaghetti Junction” traffic — but not the abundance of days in May with temperatures in the 90s. CONTRIBUTED BY PHIL SKINNER
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Heat wave has Georgians cautious about crops, outdoor activities

April might be the cruelest month, but in metro Atlanta, May is currently the hottest.

The heat wave that brought record-breaking 95-degree weather to the area over the past week helped make this the warmest May on record, said state climatologist Bill Murphey of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

Meteorologist Brian Monahan has your early Wednesday evening weather forecast.

“It’s not totally abnormal to get a heat wave, but to get an extended period in May may be just a little over the top,” Murphey said. Not only did daily temperatures reach well over 90 degrees, but overnight temperatures were at an all-time high as well for the month of May, Murphey said.

While the extreme heat brought cautionary warnings for vulnerable populations, it isn’t likely to have far-reaching impacts on local agriculture and should begin to break by late Thursday or Friday, Murphey said. However, Georgia farmers and others are monitoring conditions closely.

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Across the state, precautions were taken to help protect locals from the heat. On Wednesday, the city of Savannah suspended horse-drawn carriage tours as temperatures hovered near the triple digits. The city of South Fulton opened cooling stations at firehouses during Memorial Day weekend for anyone needing air conditioning and cool drinks. And some metro area summer camps kept children indoors this week rather than expose them to sweltering middle-of-the day heat.

Summer doesn’t officially start until June 21, but when temperatures began to kick up late this month, it felt hotter than July. “The normal daytime max for Atlanta should be about 83 degrees,” said Adam Baker, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Peachtree City. “In the last week or so, we have been about 10 degrees or so above that normal.”

Read More: Atlanta hits — and surpasses — 90-degree mark for first time this year

The summer outlook (June through August) predicts the majority of the state will have about a 40% chance for above normal temperatures, Baker said.

Temperatures have already been as warm this year as we got all year long in 2018, said Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brian Monahan. “That doesn’t necessarily mean the entire summer will be brutally hot, but we are off to a fast start of the heat this year,” he said.

Why has it been so unseasonably hot for so long? Blame it on a weather pattern in the middle part of the atmosphere that allowed really warm air to filter in from the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and the south and stall above us.

As temperatures keep reaching into the 90s in Atlanta, it’s important to stay hydrated. Construction worker Ismael Oro takes a break from the heat in a new subdivision under construction by Taylor Morrison in Duluth last week.
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

“Strong high pressure over the Southeast is keeping us very hot and dry. The stagnant pattern is the same one that keeps producing waves of storms over the Plains and Midwest,” Monahan said, referring to the flooding and tornadoes that have battered other regions of the country.

Some locals may point the finger at climate change, but it isn’t that simple. “When we talk about climate, we are worried about several decades of information before we can say an event is happening. If we do start to see a trend in that direction, it certainly gives us some pause,” said Shaunna Donaher, a meteorologist in Emory’s Department of Environmental Sciences. “One thing we are seeing is extremes happening a little more. There are more record highs than we typically have. We have seen that in the last couple of decades.”

RELATED: 5 facts about heat waves

The forecast calls for continued hot and dry weather into next week, though it won’t be record-breaking hot, said meteorologists. That is good news for some areas of central, eastern and South Georgia where soil is drying out, though not to drought-level proportions, said state agriculture officials.

“While we are certainly keeping an eye on the forecast and rain in our prayers, it is still a bit too early to claim a full-out drought. With being such a diverse agricultural state, every year somewhere in Georgia there is always a potential our producers will face drought-like conditions. But thankfully, we are not currently in a broad climatological drought situation,” said Julie McPeake, spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

Still, Pam Knox, an agricultural climatologist for the University of Georgia, said the hot, dry start to the growing season is taking a toll on some of Georgia’s biggest crops. “The dry conditions made it difficult for later planted crops like peanuts to germinate, and even if they germinated, the crusty dry soil on top made it difficult for plants to push through,” she said.

The heat has stopped corn growth in unirrigated fields, and mowed hayfields are not growing back strongly, which means farmers are having to feed livestock.

Extreme heat has left some Georgia farmers concerned about drought-like conditions. 
Photo: Curtis Compton

The hot, dry stretch of weather has Jerome Crosby, a blueberry farmer in South Georgia’s Willacoochee, concerned. “The next seven to 10 days will be the deciding factor to see if we fall into drought,” he said. Blueberries won’t release from the branches easily when it is this hot, which makes them hard to pick. He has reached that point already, he said.

So far, the berries have good flavor, and the harvests look good. “Call me back in 10 to 14 days, my attitude may be different,” he said. “If we don’t get rain in a hurry, we are in trouble.”

When temperatures soar into above 90-degree territory, localized wind gusts can bring an elevated risk of wildfires, Murphey said. Extreme heat can also have a negative impact on air quality, but there was just enough light wind and scattered clouds to keep ozone levels in check and save us from smog alerts, he said. Certain populations, particularly older adults and young children, can be at greater risk for heat-related complications such as dehydration, heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

Though they haven’t issued any specific recommendations for older adults in Georgia, AARP shares tips on its website and social media channels to help seniors prevent heat-related illnesses, said a local spokesperson. The tips include wearing loose-fitting clothing, drinking water, using sunscreen and spending as much time as possible in air-conditioned spaces.

Bradley Murchison, 1, and his brother George, 6, try to beat the heat while visiting their great-grandmother Joyce Webb for the Memorial Day 2019 holiday weekend in College Park.
Photo: CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

But for some older adults like Roddie Ingram, 60, the heat has been more of a reward than a curse, she said. On Saturday, Ingram braved the above 90-degree temperatures to enjoy hiking and swimming with her three children and four grandchildren during a visit to Callaway Gardens. “There was no shade,” said Ingram, a cancer survivor who made sure both she and the youngest children were slathered in sunscreen.

The heat also hasn’t prevented her from taking her daily 2-mile walks, but she is vigilant about staying hydrated. “I drink a lot of water,” she said. “I am from Georgia and I love the sun. It doesn’t bother me, but I am more protective now.”

The heat wave did lead her to make just one change beyond her usual routine, she said.

Last week, she bought her first pair of polarized sunglasses.

Staff writer Christopher Quinn contributed to this article.

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