Drought continues in South

Monday, June 12, 2000
By United Press International

One of the worst droughts on record continued in the South on Sunday, threatening wildlife and agriculture with no relief in sight.

Drought conditions have been reported in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

Some parts of Georgia have rainfall deficits of more than 40 inches that have accumulated over the last three years.

The National Weather Service said this could be the driest 6-month period in southern Alabama in more than a century unless rainfall comes soon. Only 8 1/2 inches of rain has fallen on the area this year. Rainfall is 14 to 18 inches below normal in Alabama, where corn has grown only waist high and some cattle are being sent to slaughter because farmers do not have enough hay or water to give them.

Fifteen metro Atlanta counties were placed under stringent water restrictions last week that prohibit outdoor water use between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. Restrictions were also in place in other Georgia cities.

"Several streams in South Georgia, which normally have a trickle of water even during a drought, are now completely dry," said Mike Gennings of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

In northwest Florida, the water table has dropped because of the dry conditions. Coastal Well Drilling owner Vernon Creamer estimated that the water level has fallen at least 14 feet since last winter. In Tallahassee, Florida, hundreds of turtles have died crossing U.S. Highway 27 as they fled 4,000-acre Lake Jackson, which has dried up because of sinkholes and the drought.

After he saw the carnage, turtle biologist Matt Aresco convinced the Florida Department of Transportation to allow a fence to prevent the turtles from crossing the highway. He said he has moved 2,100 turtles during the past two months.

Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman has asked for a federal disaster declaration that would provide low-income loans and emergency assistance for some farmers. The Alabama Forestry Commission has banned outdoor burning in many counties in southern Alabama.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said most of eastern Tennessee is considered "abnormally dry," but local officials said river water supplies were still adequate for the summer.

"If some community is in danger, then we would be able to help them out," said Mike Loftin, spokesman for the Tennessee-American Water Co. in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Officials said heavy rains from a tropical storm or hurricane could help ease the drought, but a single tropical weather system would not erase the rainfall deficit.

"Even a tropical storm, while it could cause major flooding anywhere in the state, probably would not bring us out of the drought," said David Stooksbury, state climatologist and professor of engineering at the University of Georgia.

Forecasters said no significant rainfall was expected in Georgia until later in the week. The National Weather Service said any rain that falls "will not be enough to do much to the drought."


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