Conditions near extreme drought

LAWRENCEVILLE - Without a rainy weekend, the state climatologist said Friday, Gwinnett could move to the next level of drought severity.

"If we do not have plentiful rain this weekend, I suspect Gwinnett County could be upgraded to extreme this Monday," State Climatologist David Stooksbury said.

The designation would mean that weather conditions are expected to be this dry just once every 50 years.

Now, the county is in a severe drought, a level that means weather this dry is expected once every 20 years.

Verona Murell, a forecaster for the National Weather Service, said there is a 20 percent chance of rain this weekend, despite Tropical Depression Barry, which she said is more likely to hit the southern part of the state. Stooksbury said there is a "pretty good" chance that the county's drought conditions will worsen.

But unless the state changes their rules, Gwinnett will not alter a watering ban that restricts outdoor watering, Department of Water Resources Director Frank Stephens said.

The state has four levels of drought response, he said, which do not correspond to the climatologist's designations. A level-two ban, which is now in effect, means even and odd numbered addresses can only water outdoors between midnight and 10 a.m. on alternating days.

"It really, really confuses people when different jurisdictions do different things, in my view," Stephens said. "We're abiding by and following the state schedule."

Stooksbury said a Duluth measurement station is 11.36 inches below normal rainfall for the year and 5.38 inches below what is expected in April and May. Soil moisture is also low, which impacts ground water levels, affecting plants and streams.

Small ponds are beginning to show the effects of the drought, he said. Lake Lanier, which was at 1,067.29 feet Friday, is more than three feet below its full summer pool of 1,071 feet.

Rivers are also feeling the drought's impact. Stooksbury said the Alcovy River is usually measured at a rate of 158 cubic feet a second at a station in Covington. Friday, it was flowing at just 17 cubic feet a second, a record low for the day.

"We're talking about way low," he said.

To keep grass and plants green, Stooksbury suggested keeping grass long and watering it an inch once a week.

Even if rain does start to fall, he said, it may not be enough to save this year's drought.

"A tropical storm probably won't do it," he said. "It's got to be extended."