Georgia drought conditions eliminated due to higher than average rainfall

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 16, 2013 

One would think that the abundance of rain would mean good things for the harvest.

And it does -- kind of.

Some crops have flourished and the drought is officially gone. But the rain has created some problems for farmers, city workers and landscapers.

According to the National Weather Service, Columbus had its eighth wettest month in history with 7.32 inches of rain in June, which is 3.16 inches above normal.

The wettest month recorded 10.83 inches in 1967.

Halfway through July, Columbus has had 5.09 inches, which is 2.69 inches above the normal rainfall for this point and higher than the monthly average of 4.76 inches.

With Columbus recording 38.02 inches of rain this year, officials have confirmed there are no longer any drought conditions in Georgia. The yearly average is 49.71 inches.

Service meteorologist Ryan Willis said the state's lakes are at pool level.

"The drought has been eliminated," he said. "We are going in a totally different

direction now where we are more concerned about flooding."

The weather is expected to be drier now, but if a storm system were to develop and bring heavy rains, that would not be a good circumstance with the ground already saturated.

WRBL meteorologist Bob Jeswald said the beginning of August is the peak of hurricane season so such a storm is a possibility. The afternoon showers we are now experiencing are a typical pattern for this time of year, he said.

"The weather is going to be a little more stable," Jeswald said.

Jeswald said that farmers he has spoken with are "excited" about the all the rain, "they just need some drier weather now to harvest."

He said he heard we should be expecting some "great corn and squash."

Gary W. Black, Georgia's Commissioner of Agriculture, said the rain has been "awesome" for the state. "We are thankful for every drop of water we've gotten," Black said.

The extra water has saved farmers the expense of irrigation and has provided plenty of grass for livestock.

Black confirmed the corn crop will be good. "It takes a lot of water to make corn," Black said. "Some areas have already had a year's worth of rain."

He said farmers are about a week away from harvesting the field corn; the biggest concern now is wind.

Black said the cotton and peanut crops should be in pretty good shape, though farmers have found it difficult spray fungicides and crop-protecting chemicals because of the wet grounds. "They can't get the sprayers into the fields."

Black said farmers also need some drier conditions to put down additional fertilizer to give that last boost of plant nutrients.

He said that the cool spring combined with all the water should have meant a poor peach crop but the opposite is true. While the peach crop will be strong, the blueberry crop may be a little less than expected. Black said there have been some quality issues because of the rain. Georgia is the No. 2 producer of blueberries in the country. Watermelon farmers have also suffered.

Joe McManus, assistant director of commodities and marketing for the Georgia Farm Bureau Federation, said the rain at the tail end of the wheat harvest will affect quality there. "Some wheat was lost," he said.

Because the wheat harvest ended late, not enough soybeans got planted so there could be a shortage.

Pat Biegler, director of public works for the Columbus Consolidated Government, said the rain has certainly affected the mowing and she's asking people to be patient because her workers are about 10 days behind. She has even recruited help from the rainwater division, which is responsible for checking storm water pipes, inlets and open ditches.

There has not been overtime.

"I know it feels like a long time in between cuts, but we can't cut the wet grass and it is growing so fast," Biegler said. She is looking forward to the expected drier weather.

She said one big success story is that the department hired someone to constantly check inlets. Because of that, the department is getting fewer flooding calls than ever.

Jennifer Davidson, agriculture agent for the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, said the rain has been good for the area because the drought conditions put a lot of stress on the trees.

As for plants, she said a negative result of the rain is more fungal pathogens, which can cause root rot.

People who live at a high level with sandy soil have been better off than those at a low level with heavy clay soil. "The roots need air," she said.

Norman Winter, director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, said people on that low level who put down organic material to loosen the soil are having fewer troubles.

"For the most part it's been good," Winter said of rain. "There have been some (plant) fatalities because some areas don't drain that well."

William Gnann, a horticulturist with Seasonal Concepts in Columbus, said the rain has been good for the plants. "It has kept us from having to water them," he said.

As for taking care of lawns, he said, "I'm sure the rain has put a damper on that business."

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