ATLANTA – The Latest on the drought in the Southeast (all times local):
A new national report shows that severe drought is continuing across a large swath of the South.
The U.S. Drought Monitor, released Thursday by the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, shows some improvement due to recent rains. But a map of conditions shows the South still covered in oranges, reds and browns, which is bad news for a region becoming accustomed to wildfires.
It shows a large brown area of "exceptional drought" — the very worst conditions — still covering large swaths of Georgia and Alabama. That's surrounded by red, indicating "extreme" drought, in parts of Tennessee and the western Carolinas.
Orange, showing "severe" drought, stretches from Louisiana eastward to the Carolinas.
The report shows conditions generally improved in areas where at least 3 inches of rain fell in recent weeks, including eastern Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Recent showers and storms across much of the South have eased the severe drought in the region, but experts say it wasn't enough to make up for months of dry conditions before the rain finally fell.
More rain is needed before the demise of the drought can be declared, said Mark Svoboda, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The rain has helped in the short term, though, and it also helped firefighters to rein in some the large wildfires burning in several southern states, Svoboda said.
The two largest fires in the South, which both began in the north Georgia mountains, are both 95 percent contained, national fire managers reported. The third-largest wildfire — the blaze in Great Smoky Mountains National Park blamed for 14 deaths when its flames and embers rode high winds into the Gatlinburg, Tennessee area Nov. 28 — is more now more than 80 percent contained, authorities said in their most recent update.