Rain this week could stall drought in Augusta

Experts plan to watch the weather closely

Weather over the next few weeks will be crucial in determining whether Augusta experiences a drought this summer.

Pam Knox, Georgia's assistant state climatologist, said Monday that if the area doesn't get at least an inch of rain this week it could head into a classification of D-zero, meaning abnormally dry conditions -- a precursor to drought.

"We're going to be looking pretty closely at that this week," she said.

As of Monday afternoon, the National Weather Service was predicting a 30 percent chance of rain for today, 20 percent for Wednesday and no more rain chances until Sunday.

Knox said if Augusta were to go another week or two beyond that with completely dry conditions it would then likely enter a D-1 category, or moderate drought.

"So far, Georgia has really just barely escaped the D-zero designation," she said. "Generally, you need an inch of rain a week (in the summer) to stay even."

Already, all of South Carolina has been listed in incipient drought, a first level of drought status. That determination was made July 9 by the South Carolina State Climatology Office.

Knox said just 2.9 inches of rain has been measured at Augusta Regional Airport since summer began, which is less than half the normal figure. Since Jan. 1, the Augusta area has received 16.42 inches of rainfall -- 9.36 inches below normal, said Bruce Cherry, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in West Columbia, S.C.

Knox said concern has grown lately over the area's lack of rain -- something it typically gets in the summer from the remnants of tropical storms. Few storms, though, have developed, despite an earlier prediction for a busy tropical season.

Last year, the Augusta area was in D-zero status from June through September, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System. Augusta was last in a drought in February 2009, and it experienced a more severe drought through the summer of 2008 and until that November, according to NIDIS data.

Knox said her office monitors dry conditions to see whether they're having any effect on crop yields.

"We haven't had a whole lot of reports of impacts yet," she said, but noted that her office wants to hear from Georgians if they start to experience problems.

As for outdoor watering guidelines, Drew Goins, the assistant director of Augusta's Utilities Department, said the state Environmental Protection Division determines when restrictions need to be increased. Tim Cash, an assistant branch chief with the EPD's watershed protection branch, said it typically takes back-to-back months of drought conditions before the EPD imposes stiffer outdoor watering restrictions.

New watering guidelines

Last month, outdoor watering guidelines changed because of the new water conservation law signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Previously, local residents could do outdoor watering on an even-odd schedule at any time of the day -- even addresses on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and odd addresses on Wednesday, Fridays and Sundays.

The new law allows landscape watering any day of the week regardless of address but only between the hours of 4 p.m. and 10 a.m. Non-landscape watering, such as car washing, can occur any time of the day, but only on the even-odd day schedule.

For more information on the new guidelines, go to www.augustaga.gov/DocumentView.aspx?DID=2594.