Neighboring counties reach exceptional drought

LAWRENCEVILLE - Exceptional drought - the worst drought classification possible - reached a few of Gwinnett County's neighbors the state's climatologist said Thursday. And despite some localized rain showers during July, it's not been enough to get the rivers up north flowing he said.

"The rains were not enough to halt dropping stream flows across most of the state," Dr. David Stooksbury, said in a statement. "Across northeast and southwest Georgia, almost all streams in these two regions are at or near record low flows for late July."

Stooksbury said exceptional drought has now reached Hall and Jackson counties and that this classification should only occur once every 50 - 100 years. In total, he said 16 Georgia counties are now experiencing the worst classification of drought. He said Gwinnett, Forsyth, Barrow and Walton are still in the extreme category and that there are now 13 counties statewide with this classification. He said 96 counties are currently classified as severe with another 12 receiving a mild drought rating.

According to Kent Franz of the National Weather Center, rainfall at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport during the last 365 days is 11.21 inches below average. For the last 30 days, he said rainfall at the site is a little more than 0.5 inches above average. Stooksbury said Georgia's best chance at drought relief will come from now through October as the tropical storm season gets under way.

He also said the problem with Georgia's streams are that many are below the 7Q10 level of flow, an environmental indicator of drought. He said when stream flows fall below the 7Q10 value, concerns arise about the environmental quality and health of a stream. He said the Chattooga, Tullulah, Nottely, Chattahoochee and the Chestatee Rivers are at record low flows. The Chattahoochee and Chestatee Rivers are the main sources of water for Lake Lanier.

As of Friday morning, Lake Lanier was 15.6 feet below full, an all-time low for this time of year said Michael Lapina of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Lapina said because of this fact, boaters and swimmers need to take precaution when using the lake because of deep drop offs now closer to shore and because of stumps and debris just beneath the surface of the water. He also had some advice for nonswimmers.

"Stay out of the water," he said.

Lapina also advised anyone using the lake for recreation to wear a life preserver.