By Pam Knox
The current drought in Georgia has caused significant problems for farmers in central Georgia and other areas of the state, but a lack of impact on the state's larger cities and drinking water supplies has kept it off most Georgians' radar.
As of early December, 14% of the state was experiencing exceptional drought, drought that is only expected to occur every 50-100 years. This region was experiencing some level of drought during the entire 2012 growing season. Some areas are 20 inches below normal rainfall.
Drought is classified into four levels: moderate (D1), severe (D2), extreme (D3) and exceptional (D4) drought. A few areas in central Georgia have been experiencing extreme drought continuously since May 2011.
While wetter weather this summer alleviated drought in some areas of the state, drier-than-normal conditions have expanded due to a deficit of tropical rainfall at the end of the summer and a persistent high pressure system that has diverted storms away from the state. This year Georgia was largely bypassed by tropical systems.
This fall a strong high-pressure system steered rain-bearing systems away from the state and suppressed convective rain. The systems that would have usually brought rain to Georgia passed to the north of the state, resulting in a fall that was even drier than usual for the driest time of year.
More than half the state received less than half its usual rainfall in September, October and November, causing stream flows to drop to near-record levels and expanding the areas affected by drought.
One of the differences between the current drought and the drought of 2007-2009 is the location of the areas affected by the drought. In 2007 the center of the worst drought was in northern Georgia, where it affected cities like Atlanta and Athens.
The extremely high temperatures associated with that fast-developing drought and concerns about water supply and water usage helped to raise public consciousness about the severity of the drought and generated increased media attention.