Published January 13, 2015
After a bone-dry summer that forced him to irrigate his 200-acre cow pasture, Joseph Fletcher just wants the rain to stop long enough to plant oats and rye for his cattle to eat during the winter.
"The dirt's still wet. We need some sunshine now to dry it out," the farmer said.
A soggy September has followed one of the driest summers on record in the South, with tropical storms spawning enough rain to flood homes in southwestern Georgia and wreck cotton crops from here to the Carolinas.
But the rains have not been enough to pull the South out its five-year drought.
"When it takes four or five years to get into a major drought, it takes a long time to get out of it," said Jim Noel, a National Weather Service hydrologist in Atlanta. "One or two major rains over a couple of weeks doesn't do it."
Two tropical storms, Gustav and Hanna, have dumped rain on severely drought-stricken areas in Georgia and the Carolinas this month. And Isidore brought more drenching rain to the Gulf Coast states this week.
The September soaking has helped some farmers, as well as foresters worried about wildfires. But it has done little to replenish reservoirs,
Lake Lanier, a major water source near Atlanta, has risen less than 6 inches after heavy rains over the past two weeks, Noel said. The lake remains about 5 feet below its normal level.
South Carolina had seen enough rain for the state on Tuesday to downgrade the drought status for much of the state from extreme to severe.
The western half of North Carolina remains in an extreme drought, especially in the foothills of the Appalachians. Officials in Landis, a town of 3,000 about 35 miles north of Charlotte, said Tuesday the town has less than 30 days' worth of water left.
Landis Fire Chief Reed Linn said the shortage was so severe his department was planning to fight fires with water brought in by tanker trucks from ponds outside of town.
Other states, such as Louisiana and Alabama, are faring better. Drought conditions had eased across most of Alabama before a three-day downpour dumped 10 inches of rain in Birmingham, raising the level of its main reservoir nearly 4 feet -- the equivalent of about 1 billion gallons of water.
Mike Vann, general manager of the Birmingham Water Works Board, said the lake's level was in the normal range before the deluge. "It's on the wet side now," he said Tuesday.
Huge downpours, such as the 15 inches brought by Hanna that flooded parts of southwestern Georgia, are not much help, because a lot of the rain runs off into rivers before it can soak into the ground.
What is needed to end the drought, Noel said, is sustained periods of wet weather through the fall and winter. Georgia, for example, still has about a year's worth of normal rainfall to make up.
The El Nino phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean could help make a difference, said David Stooksbury, Georgia's state climatologist.
El Nino brought a wetter-than-normal winter, particularly in southern Georgia, in the 1997-98 season and could bring more rain this time, too.