Extreme drought worsening quickly in Alabama

A choking drought that is worsening quickly across Alabama, killing plants and drying out creeks and rivers, has reached levels not seen in at least 50 years, a climate expert said Thursday.

The latest assessment from the National Drought Mitigation Center showed more than 65 percent of the state is now in an extreme or exceptional drought, a level that was up dramatically from a week earlier.

State climatologist John Christy, a professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said the current drought isn't too bad when compared to droughts that last six months or more. But compared to short-term droughts of two months or so, "this is a once in a 50- (to) 100-year event," Christy said.

Soil conditions in the state only make conditions worse because the land typically doesn't hold water very well, Christy said in an interview conducted by email.

"So, when it stops raining, our soils dry out and vegetation becomes stressed more quickly than in other parts of the country," Christy said. "That's why the saying here is true that we are only seven to 10 days away from a drought."

Conditions are worst in north Alabama, but the lack of rainfall is causing severe drought conditions as far south as the Florida line. Neighboring states also are experiencing a drought, but not as badly as Alabama.

While forecasters say cooler weather is on the way, no substantial rain is forecast. Some areas haven't had measurable rainfall since September, according to the National Weather Service.

The biggest impact of the drought so far has been on pastures that no longer are producing hay, which forces livestock farmers to sell cattle at a loss or purchase expensive feed for the winter, Christy said.

State officials have banned outdoor burning but wildfires have still burned more than 12,000 acres of land statewide in the last month as the drought deepened, and water levels are dropping in streams and lakes.