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Fay brings driving rain, tornado watch to Georgia

ATLANTA - Waves of driving rain soaked Georgia as the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay rumbled through the state Tuesday, snarling traffic, swelling rivers and bringing a much needed drenching to the drought-stricken region.

The storm brought stiff winds and a blinding deluge that bloated creeks and rivers, prompting forecasters to post a flood and tornado watch for most of Georgia throughout much of the day.

The National Weather Service said no major flooding or tornadoes had been reported as the storm marched toward Tennessee, but heavy rains and winds knocked down trees, washed out dirt roads and flooded a handful of homes.

NWS forecaster Mike Griesinger said the worst damage appeared to be in the Commerce area in Jackson County, where dozens of mobile homes were damaged or destroyed. He said the damage there and in Hall County may have come from tornadoes, but that had not been confirmed.

Officials in Hall County said a windstorm damaged the roof of Lyman Hall Elementary School late Tuesday afternoon. Hall County Fire Marshal Scott Cagle said high winds damaged three mobile homes and a barn in the eastern part of the county about 6:45 p.m., shortly after a tornado warning was issued for the area.

The driving rains were also a timely soaking for the parched northern part of the state, which has been locked in an historic drought since March 2006. And it seems to have quenched the drought in the southern part of the state, where dry conditions have lingered for months.

In south Georgia, the heavy rains dumped more than two feet of rain over parts of the region, sending emergency officials scrambling to prepare for flooding. Thomas County, one of the hardest hit spots, was drenched by 27 inches of rain that flooded 11 homes.

'We've virtually lost everything,' said Kevin White, who headed for high ground with his wife, six cats and two dogs when their home was knee-deep in water. 'Everything we have is still inside.'

Lingering drought in the area may have worsened the impact of the flooding, forecasters say. The dry conditions hardened the top layers of soil and sapped vegetation that would normally soak up rain like a sponge.

'It's like concrete,' said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center. 'You've got less vegetation and more areas exposed to runoff.'

The deluge, though, did allow forecasters to offer a piece of good news: 'The drought there, for all practical purposes, has ended,' said state climatologist David Stooksbury.

North Georgia, however, is a different story.

The rains helped Lake Lanier, which is more than 17 feet below normal level, to surge more than 4 inches in the span of a day. The massive reservoir, which is Atlanta's main water supply, will likely continue to rise as creeks and tributaries swell.

But forecasters say north Georgia needs months of above-average rainfall to emerge from the epic conditions that forced state officials to restrict outdoor watering and Gov. Sonny Perdue to hold a public prayer vigil for rain on the steps of the Georgia Capitol.

'It's going to take much more than one event,' said Stooksbury. 'This will definitely put a dent in drought conditions, but it won't end it.'