Growings On: Drought conditions likely to spread in Georgia

Roger Gates

Unlike catastrophic weather events that are sudden and dramatic, drought is very gradual and progressive. Based on longterm records for Dalton, cumulative precipitation, beginning in January, averages a bit more than 43 inches by the end of September. This year, due to a very wet February, cumulative rainfall was above normal through June, even though monthly precipitation was less than normal every month after February. August and September have been well below normal.

Hot temperatures have added to moisture stress. Plants (as well as people) benefit from lower nighttime temperatures, which allow them to recover or replenish the internal moisture required for normal activity. This year, monthly average overnight low temperatures were about nine degrees above longterm average in July, 10 degrees warmer in August and have averaged 78 degrees during September, compared with the longterm average of 66 degrees.

During the last week of August, only areas in middle Georgia were classified with “moderate drought," according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The most recent estimates from Sept. 24 classify all of Georgia except small portions of southwest Georgia as “abnormally dry” or “moderate drought.” Large portions of middle Georgia, extending into northeast Georgia, are now classified as “extreme drought.”

State climatologist Pam Knox reports that drought expansion is occurring rapidly across the Southeast.

“For the (Southeast) region as a whole, almost 39% is now classified as moderate drought (D1) or worse," Knox said. "In South Carolina, almost 45% is in drought, including 15% in severe drought in the central Piedmont region. Georgia’s region of severe drought expanded from 1 to 13%, and virtually all of the state (over 99%) is now classified as abnormally dry or worse. Alabama jumped from 13 to 30% in drought, including a small area of extreme (D3) drought just south of Birmingham. Florida also experienced a large increase in drought and the addition of a small area of severe drought in the Panhandle region.”

Knox adds: “With record-setting temperatures in many parts of the region this week and virtually no chance for rain in many areas, the drought is likely to continue to spread on next week’s map. Happily, there is some indication of at least some temporary relief in parts of the region this weekend with rain from a cold front that is expected to move through the area, but it will be scattered, and it may take until the second week in October before we see a real change in the weather patterns to put us back in a wetter regime.”

In spite of hot conditions, more than 4,000 Georgians in 133 counties participated in the nation's first statewide pollinator census, logging more than 133,963 insect interactions. The Great Georgia Pollinator Census was Aug. 23-24. As of the Aug. 28 deadline, Georgians had logged 4,567 counts during the groundbreaking citizen science exercise.

“I think the story now is how excited people were to participate,” said Becky Griffin, school and community garden coordinator for University of Georgia Cooperative Extension and the pollinator count organizer. “I have heard several times that people will never look at their gardens the same way again and that slowing down for 15 minutes to look at the insects was eye-opening.

“I am so very, very grateful for all of the Georgia citizens who were willing to give up their time to support our pollinators.”

A number of partners supported the census including the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, the Daughters of the American Revolution and Monarchs Across Georgia.

Roger Gates is the agricultural and natural resources agent for University of Georgia Extension, Whitfield County. Contact him at

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