Much Of The Southeast U.S. Is Grappling With Drought

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David Bailey tosses hay to one of his remaining cows in Dawson, Ala., on Oct. 26. Bailey had to sell off half of his cattle herd — more than 100 animals — because he doesn't have enough hay to feed them through the winter.

Large parts of the Southeast are grappling with severe drought.

In some parts of Alabama, there hasn't been any rain in nearly six weeks. Some farmers are selling off cattle because there's not enough hay to feed them over the winter.

Denise Croker, a chief ranger with the Georgia Forestry Commission, told the Insurance Journal, "our dirt is like talcum powder."

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor report, released Thursday, shows parts of Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi under "exceptional drought" conditions.

An even larger swath of the country — from eastern Texas through parts of Arkansas, Louisiana and up to Kentucky — is experiencing less serious, but still severe, drought that threatens crops and has led to water shortages.

Nearly 40 percent of the Southeast is under moderate to exceptional drought conditions, according to the most recent analysis by the Southeast Regional Climate Center.

Jordan McLeod, a regional climatologist at the Southeast Regional Climate Center, told the Los Angeles Times that the Southeastern drought first developed in the spring and "really began to intensify during the summer."

The Times reports that the reason for the drought is essentially bad weather luck, because recent storms have skipped the driest areas:

"The rains that drenched Louisiana and led to disastrous floods this summer didn't head east, and the tropical storms that flooded parts of the East Coast didn't move west.

" 'Unfortunately those storms did not take a very favorable inland trek that would have brought some much-needed rainfall to interior areas that are under drought,' McLeod said of recent tropical storms that formed in the Atlantic Ocean and headed toward the U.S."

The hardest-hit parts of the Southeast, mostly in Georgia and Alabama, are dealing with dryness comparable to the ongoing, catastrophic drought in California. The new report classifies conditions in both parts of the country as long-term droughts, meaning they have been going on six months or more.

In the Southeast, the lack of water also has intensified a decades-long fight between Georgia and Florida over water rights. The main issue is that Florida thinks Georgia — and especially Atlanta — uses too much water from the Chattahoochee River, as Molly Samuel of member station WABE reported this fall.

An October report by the Southeast Regional Climate Center said Lake Lanier, "a major reservoir for Atlanta's water supply, [was] about 8 feet below its summer pool level." It also recorded at least 1,000 wildfires in Alabama since late September.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has issued a drought declaration for every county in the state, and the northern half of the state is under a drought emergency, which allows local officials to restrict water use. As of Monday, all of Alabama was under a "no burn" order that bars all outdoor burning, according to the Alabama Forestry Commission.

So far, the Georgia's Department of Natural Resources has not gone as far. In September, officials began what they called a "level 1 drought response," which consisted of a public information campaign in 53 counties.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal told reporters last week that he would impose water-use restrictions in some parts of the state "very soon," according to member station WABE. Deal didn't say when the new restrictions would take effect.

In September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated the Georgia counties of Putnam, Baldwin, Greene, Hancock, Jasper, Jones and Morgan as disaster areas due to farmer and rancher losses from the drought. The designation means some farmers in those counties are eligible for "low interest emergency loans from USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA)."

The FSA says farmers in those seven counties have eight months, beginning from the Sept. 21 date of the disaster declaration, to apply for loans to help cover losses.

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