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Mild drought returns to Ga.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Georgia has remained free of drought for more than a year, but drought conditions have returned to parts of the state, the state climatologist said this week.

Mild drought conditions exist in Towns County in north Georgia and in many of the counties that border Alabama and Florida -- from the Columbus area to just west of Valdosta, said David Stooksbury, the state climatologist.

For the past three months, the counties now in mild drought have received between 50 and 75 percent of normal rainfall, Stooksbury said.

"Temperatures across the state have been above normal this summer, increasing water loss from the soils by evaporation and plant water use," he said.

Gwinnett County is just outside of an abnormally dry area in northwest and north-central Georgia, Stooksbury said. The counties in that area are north and west of Haralson, Paulding, Cobb, central Fulton, Forsyth, Dawson, Lumpkin and Union, inclusive.

On Thursday morning, Lake Lanier was at 1,069.89 feet above sea level, just more than a foot below full pool.

Many of the counties that border South Carolina are also experiencing abnormally dry conditions, from the state's northern border down to the Augusta area. The dry conditions also span much of the southern part of the state, from the metro Albany area over to the Statesboro and Savannah region.

Exceptions to the drying trend include much of the central piedmont and the central coastal plain, Stooksbury said. In the past month, Atlanta has received 105 percent of normal rain, while Macon has received 181 percent of normal rain.

But with temperatures remaining in the 90s and low 100s with little or no rain, Stooksbury said soils statewide will continue to dry. This will lead to increased plant stress, and soil moisture and stream flows will continue to decline.

"Dryness across the state is expected to increase over the next several weeks unless Georgia receives beneficial rains from one or more tropical disturbances, such as a tropical storm or hurricane," Stooksbury said.

Increasing the probability of widespread and significant drought for the next year is the return of the La Nina pattern. This ocean-atmosphere system is associated with dry, warm winters across much of the Southeast, Stooksbury said.

"This means that we may have minimal recharge of the hydrologic system this winter," he said. "... It is too early to tell exactly how the La Nina pattern will impact Georgia, but we need to be aware of the possible short-term tropical impacts and the long-term drought impacts."