Lake Lanier reported at lowest level since 2009

Lake Lanier Islands Resort is shown from above in this photograph provided by Gwinnett County.

Lake Lanier Islands Resort is shown from above in this photograph provided by Gwinnett County.

BUFORD -- The summer storms haven't been enough to keep Lake Lanier's water level high.

On Sunday, the lake stood at 1,066.87 feet above sea level, five feet below its summer full pool of 1,071 feet above sea level.

The last time the lake was reported at a lower elevation was Sept. 20, 2009, when the level was 1,065.55 feet.

The lake rose to 1,067.31 feet the next day and stayed on an increasing course until topping 1,071 feet on Oct. 14, 2009.

During the last 90 days, rainfall has been 40 percent below normal in Athens and 63 percent below normal in Atlanta. Yet, state climatologist David Stooksbury explained, Gwinnett is not considered to be in a drought. It is termed "abnormally dry," while the mountains where Lanier's headwaters begin are on the low side of normal.

The problem, he said, is the severe drought in southern and middle Georgia.

"Lanier holds most of the storage for the (Appalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river) basin," he said. "The Army Corps of Engineers is having to release water from Lanier to support those reservoirs" in south Georgia.

Stooksbury said no drought is the same, but there are a lot of factors to come in determining whether conditions will get as bad as 2007, when the lake dropped 20 feet below its full level. The fall tropical storm season and a possible shift to La Nina weather patterns, which could bring a dry winter, will factor into the future conditions.

But the incredibly hot temperatures and unpredictable summer showers affect have made dramatically different impacts in small areas.

"That number varies tremendously throughout the state, from some locations that can be just a few miles apart," Stooksbury said of rainfall amounts. On the high temperatures, he added, "we're losing a tremendous amount of moisture from the soil every day both from evaporation and from plant use."