Friday, April 24, 2009

Volatile spring weather whips Georgia crops

Torrential rains have flooded fields and freezing temperatures have shocked plants, turning spring into a roller-coaster weather ride for Georgia farmers.

Over the past month, areas in south Georgia have received as much as 18 inches of rain, coupled with cold fronts dropping spring temperatures to below freezing.

The cold, wet weather delayed or postponed the planting of this year’s watermelon crop. Only 60 percent to 70 percent has been planted, according to a Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service survey of University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agents last week. A quarter of what has been planted is in poor condition.

If the rain stops and things dry up, farmers around Cordele, Ga. -- the hub of Georgia watermelon production – should have plenty of melons in time for the mother of all watermelon holidays: the Fourth of July, said Tucker Price, UGA Extension agent in Crisp County. Farmers there will plant 3,000 acres.

“Rain has stopped everything in watermelons. You just can't get out there. Some fields had been planted before the rain came while others were in the middle of planting and others had just applied fertilizers and laid plastic (into which the crop is planted in fields),” he said.

Blueberry farmers have also dealt with the weather.

Farmers in south Georgia plant two types of blueberries: highbush and rabbiteye. Highbush accounts for as much as 10 percent of the 15,000 acres in the area. The freezing spring temperatures zapped about half of that crop, said Danny Stanaland, blueberry expert and UGA Extension agent in Bacon County.

Highbush were damaged, but the rabbiteye variety, which is the most planted, is on track to make an excellent crop due to good pollination. Last year, farmers produced 34 million pounds. This year, Stanaland said, they could produce 15 percent more. Blueberry harvest for early-maturing varieties will start in the next two weeks.

Aside from some pocketed hail damage and some minor cold injury, Georgia’s Vidalia Onion crop is looking good, said Reid Torrance, UGA Extension onion expert in Tattnall County, where more than half of that crop is planted.

“Onion maturity has slowed considerably in the past two weeks and farmers are afraid the crop is not going to size adequately,” he said. “I think the warmer weather this week will make the crop progress in a more normal fashion. We are a just a bit delayed regarding maturity. I think growers are antsy about getting more onions harvested to meet market demand, but they are not yet mature enough or big enough.”

Three-quarters of Georgia’s expected 350,000 acres of corn has been planted. Of that, a quarter is in poor to very poor condition, according to the GASS report.

“As you can imagine, it has been rough for corn producers. The cold, wet conditions have delayed planting and growth of that which has been planted,” said Dewey Lee, UGA Extension small grains specialist. “We have maybe two weeks of good planting window before we begin to see daily yield losses due to time.”

Due to the wet, cloudy weather, Lee said, wheat yields could be less this year. But most of the expected 340,000 acres is in OK condition.

According to the report, 86 percent of Georgia’s peaches are in good shape. The remainder is in poor condition.

The wet weather slowed land preparation for peanuts and cotton, which farmers will begin to plant next month. Farmers are expected to plant 500,000 acres of peanuts, or 28 percent less than last year due to the current large surplus. Cotton acreage is expected to be 940,000 acres, unchanged from last year.

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

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Monday, April 13, 2009

March rain soaks Georgia’s drought

While temperatures were near normal for March in Georgia, rainfall was well above normal, according to data collected by the National Weather Service. Precipitation was below normal only along the state’s northern and southern borders and east-central area.

During the month, Atlanta received 7.13 inches (1.75 inch above normal), Athens 7.05 (2.06 inches above normal), Columbus 12.70 inches (6.95 inches above normal), Macon 7.78 inches (2.88 inches above normal), Savannah 2.84 inches (1.16 inches below normal), Alma 8.20 inches (3.40 inches above normal), Brunswick 3.61 inches (0.32 inches below normal) and Augusta 4.38 inches (0.23 inches below normal).

Georgia volunteer observers with the national Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network reported that the largest one-day rain amount was 7.15 inches on March 29 in Miller County in southwest Georgia. Other observers in the region reported 6 inches on that date in Albany and Tifton.

Observers reported snow early in the month as a low pressure area moved through southern Georgia, bringing wintry conditions to the northern part of the state. A band of snow fell along a line from Columbus to Toccoa with the heaviest amounts, over 8 inches, falling northeast of Athens.

Several temperature records were tied during the month. Athens tied a record high of 84 degrees Fahrenheit on March 9. Savannah tied its record of 26 F on March 4 and 5.

Most NWS stations reported mean temperatures a half of a degree above normal for the month. Macon reported the highest above-normal departure at 1 F. Alma reported the lowest below-normal departure at 1.6 F.

Severe weather hit the state several times in March. On March 15, a weak tornado was reported near Putnam in Marion County.

On March 26 and 27, scattered fallen trees, small hail and building damage occurred while a stationary front was located over central Georgia.

On March 28, widespread severe weather occurred in southern and central Georgia. Weak tornadoes were seen in Miller and Dooly counties, along with hail up to 1.25 inches in diameter and scattered wind damage. Heavy rains contributed to local flooding.

Due to the heavy rainfall across most of Georgia, drought levels in many parts of the state were reduced or eliminated. The exceptions to this reduction were the Lake Lanier and Lake Hartwell watersheds and parts of southeastern Georgia, where rainfall in March was below normal.

By Pam Knox
University of Georgia

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Georgia drought free except Lanier, Hartwell basins

All of Georgia except the Lanier and Hartwell basins are now out of drought. Several days of heavy rain across the southern two-thirds of the state have alleviated the remaining drought conditions in south Georgia.

The Lake Lanier and Lake Hartwell basins remain in moderate drought. Lake Lanier is a major source of water for much of metropolitan Atlanta. On the Savannah River, Lakes Russell and Clarks Hill remain abnormally low for early April.

Soil moisture statewide is near normal for early April. In scattered areas across south Georgia, soil moisture is currently above normal.

Stream flows across the southern two-thirds of Georgia are well above normal. Daily record-high flows are being set on many rivers and creeks in southwest and south central Georgia. The National Weather Service is issuing flood warnings for many rivers in the state. Updated river stage information from the NWS is available at

Drowning is a major cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S. Most of drowning deaths result from people driving vehicles into flooded roadways.

When a roadway is covered with water, it is virtually impossible to know the true depth of the water. It only takes a few inches of water to float a car and lead to disaster.

Additionally, when a road is covered with water it is very difficult to tell if the road has been washed away or the bridge has been undermined. The safest rule is if the road is covered with water, all drivers should “turn around, don’t drown,” as directed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's safety campaign.

Additional weather and climate information can be found at and

Agricultural climatology information can be found at

Coastal climate information can be found at

Daily rainfall data is at

U.S. Geological Survey data is at

By David Emory Stooksbury
University of Georgia

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Atlanta Dept. of Watershed Management Response to H.B. 406

On Tuesday the Senate Rules Committee passed onto the floor a special interest bill that works against the common interests of all Georgians. It undermines investment in drinking water projects, including new reservoirs. It does this by jeopardizing infrastructure revenue bonds for the entire state of Georgia.

"House Bill 406 turns upside down the progress Georgia has made in water resource planning. It allows special interest projects to bypass the tried and true processes for project permitting and service delivery," says DWM Commissioner Robert Hunter.

H.B. 406 is designed to allow a local pump-storage reservoir in South Fulton County to avoid state requirements that have been in place for decades. The reservoir would constitute a new water withdrawal from the Chattahoochee River. One consequence of the statewide legislation would be to fundamentally change the process to decide which utility provides services within any given area. This change would make Georgia law and regulation significantly different from that of other States and would also significantly increase the risk to Georgia revenue bonds. Published reports by bond rating agencies verify that the stability of service areas is an important rating factor for revenue bonds.

"The national bond market is very unstable at the moment and even more so in Georgia where we have seen water system revenues drop by as much as 20 percent due to the drought. This is absolutely the wrong time to increase the risk to our infrastructure bonds by increasing the uncertainty of service areas and the revenues needed to pay the bond debt," says Hunter.
H.B. 406 will not increase investment in drinking water infrastructure or reservoir development. "It will, in fact, harm future reservoir development," says Hunter.
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Georgia Citizens in Storm Affected Area Water Alert

Public Water and Wastewater Systems located in the potential impact area of Severe Weather
For Citizens in the Storm-Affected Areas:

The possibility of severe weather that includes heavy rains, large hail, gusty winds and isolated tornados threatens the majority of Georgia. Numerous portions of southwest and south-central Georgia have experienced heavy soaking rains over the past several days. This has caused minor to moderate flooding in numerous southwest Georgia counties. A large frontal system remains over the majority of Georgia. This front will sweep through Georgia tonight and the impact of these storms may cause problems with the supply of drinking water to citizens. The heavy rains have also overwhelmed several wastewater treatment plants causing them to by-pass water. The high winds or flooding may result in a loss of electrical power, flooding or damage to drinking water and wastewater facilities. A possible health hazard could then exist from the introduction of water of unknown quality into the water distribution system, storage tanks and sources of water supply.

If citizens experience a water supply outage or low water pressure, the Environmental Protection Division advises that all water be “boiled” prior to use for drinking, cooking, or preparing baby food in order to protect themselves from a potential health hazard. The water should be boiled for at least one minute after reaching a rolling boil, let it cool, and store it in clean containers with covers. Citizens should continue to boil their water before use until they are notified by their drinking water utility that the water system has been restored to full operation, and that the microbiological quality of the water in the distribution system is safe for human consumption. Unopened bottled water does not need to be boiled.

If boiling water is not feasible or bottled water is unavailable, then emergency disinfection of drinking water should be considered. Water disinfection procedures can be found on the United States Environmental Protection Agency website at It is recommended that the instructions be printed and saved for use later if needed.

For additional information, please visit the Environmental Protection Division's website, For specific questions please contact EPD's Drinking Water Program at 404-656-2750.
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