Hope your garden hose is in good shape: The drought that started in May 1998 is expected to continue and even worsen through early summer.
While you can't blame La Nina for the weather on any given day, it has influenced the Southeast's weather pattern since mid-1998, causing the dry spell.
According to David Stodsbury, the University of Georgia-based climatologist for the state of Georgia, La Nina occurs when the sea surface in the equatorial Pacific Ocean is colder than average. During La Nina, winters in Georgia are warmer and drier than average. That's been the case for 1999-2000.
The current La Nina is in a mature stage. Climatic Prediction Center computer models and statistical predictions call for La Nina to slowly weaken over the next several months.
An El Nino pattern may slowly develop as La Nina weakens. In this pattern, the equatorial Pacific is abnormally warm. The Climatic Prediction Center reports that subsurface temperature pattern in the equatorial Pacific is starting to evolve into a buildup stage for an El Nino pattern. The buildup period is usually one to two years.
This change in the ocean temperature is the first sign that the drought's end may be sight. The bad news is that it will be late summer before you can expect much chance of relief.
What does all of this mean to you? Hotter, drier than average weather at least through July. Forecasters are calling for a 48 percent chance that we'll be hotter than average for the summer, a 34 percent chance of average summer temperatures and a 19 percent chance of a cooler than average summer.
Take all of this for what it's worth: They are all predictions based on probability. We all hope that this will be an incorrect prediction and that everything will be "normal."
But if the forecast is true, the yard and garden will need regular waterings. Even in an average year, the Augusta area usually loses more soil moisture through evaporation and transpiration than it gains through precipitation during the peak of the summer growing season. During those times of soil-moisture deficits, plants depend on moisture reserves collected during the winter and on supplemental irrigation. But this winter has built up few reserves.
All of this comes at a most inopportune time for our overtaxed municipal water supply. Rumors are already circulating that we'll start odd-even restrictions as early as May in Augusta.
So, you need to be smart with your watering. If people would water efficiently, there would be no need for water bans or restrictions. As we progress into the growing season, I will write another column on how to water correctly.
The soil temperature as of Monday was 55 degrees. Crab grass begins germination at 55 degrees, with other summer weeds close behind. If you haven't already, apply a pre-emergence herbicide.
Sid Mullis is director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County. Call him at 821-2349, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The offices that serve Richmond and Columbia counties have a Web page at www.griffin.peachnet.edu/ga/columbia.